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March 31, 2010

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people Winthrop News Wednesday, March 31, 2olo Page7 Support of family an,d friends keeps Paul going by Ruth Klossner After 10 weeks in Rochester hospitals, musician Paul Wendinger finally made it back to his St. George farm. While nearly two-and-a-half months in the hospital would be enough to depress nearly anyone, Paul admits to only two days of being "down and out." Those days were ones that probably depressed a lot of us, but for a different reason. They were snow storm days...and the reason they got Paul down was that he knew he wouldn't have any visitors. Virtually every other day, Paul had compa- ny, so many that Rochester hospital staffers have said that Wendinger had more visitors than they'd ever seen in their lives. "So many people came, the nurses just pointed to his room," Paul's wife Joleen said with a laugh. "And.I told them that, ifI was sleeping, they weren't supposed to turn people away They came over a hundred miles," Paul added. At one point, a nurse commented, "Sun- day's coming...should we set up bleachers?" Just a week before he came home, Paul cel- ebrated his birthday with 48 people. !'My band members were all there, my fam- ily, the kids and grandldds, and dear friends. We Paul Wendinger at KNUJ studios in New Ulm the day after he came home fi'om Rochester. Submitted photo had quite a party," Paul said. "It was great." He added, "Joleen and the kids were big supporters. Joleen went home only once, for our grandson's baptism" The Wendingers' five kids made frequent trips to Rochester and kept things running on the home front. They are Kris Beranek and friend Kevin Meyer, Jon and Lisa Wendinger, Joey and Jessica Wendinger, Kari and Ryan Schwartz, and Kelly and Patrick Weber. The couple's 14 grandchildren also visited grandpa in the hospital, leading to some cute stories. When four-year-old Thomas was at the hos- ?ital, he knew that Paul was getting stronger because he was sitting up and wearing his glass- es. He also repot'ted that grandpa was "in the shower all day" because a humidifier was run- ning directly by his face. "Eacti of the grandkids has a different per- sonality. It was fun to see," Paul said. "It was strange for the kids to seeme like this but when I held the newest baby in bed, that triggered the other ones, too, and they took turns laying on the bed with me:' Somewhere along the line, somebody men- tioned, "You've got quite a team, Paulie!" and bright yellow T-shirts with "I'eam Paulie, Keep Smiling," were born. Kelly came up with the idea and contacted Jon who had access to t- shirts. Gary Schroeder was summoned to draw the design for the logo. "Keep Smiling, those are always Paul's words, so they were put on the shirts," Joleen said. "Yellow is Paul's favorite color." Throughout Paul's ordeal, Joleen kept a Caring Bridge site (www.caringbridge. org.paulwendingemotes). "It is a nice way to stay in touch without having to write so many emails," Joleen said. As of last week, the site had more than 121,000 hits. As he grew stronger, Paul was getting anx- ious to get home. Although the hospital food was good, he was growing tired of it. When he learned that the Courtyard by Marriott had a half price appetizer and $2.00 beer special, Paul got a four- hour pass from the hospital and he and Joleen went there. "It was a chance for Joleen to get out and do some- thing," Paul said, with Joleen adding, "It was a chance for me do a practice outing in the wheelchair." That led to another story as Paul explained, "She hit a pothole with the wheel- chair and I just about came out like a bullet!" Since he's in front, Joleen now makes Paul watch for holes. The first outing went so well that they made the trip again the next night. Not long before they were scheduled to come home, son Joey called to tell Paul that the family wanted to remodel the bathroom at home and to build a ramp in the garage. The kids joined iq, demol- ishing the old bathroom and cleaning the house to make it ready for Paul and Joleen's return. Delmar and Bob Bussler and their crew are doing the consmaction, with other local contrac- tors pitching in. Debbie Zahn from Design Homes sent tile samples and ideas to the hospi- tal so the project could get underway. When Paul and Joleen got" home Saturday evening, March 6, they found yellow balloons on their mail box, a lighted "Pray for Paul" sign, made by friends, on the lawn, and a "Welcome Home, Grandma and Grandpa" sign on the garage. The whole family was standing at the window, waiting for them. "Cars honk and slow down when they see the sign," Joleen said. "It's just a reminder of what it's all about and who is really in charge!" The morning after he got home, Paul went to church. "I was sitting in my wheelchair in the back. People were shocked to see me ]ike this," Paul said. '`i got church in, went to HyVee for coffee, and did the radio show on KNUJ." And, for icing on the cake, Paul and Joleen went to Carl's Corner at Essig that evening. Since he had mentioned that on the Peter and Paul Wendinger Band radio show that after- noon, Carl's Corner was jam-packed with friends that night. "I really appreciate all the people who sent prayers, cards, flowers, and food and drove to Rochester to see me," Paul said. "And everyone involved in getting the bath- room ready. Most of all, we are so thankful for all the prayers." Paul Wendinger has battled liver cancer for the last three years but it wasn't his cancer that landed himin the hospital this time. About Christmas time, he had what he assumed was a stiff neck and went to a chiro- Factor. On December 27, he was getting ready for the band's Christmas party when he sudden- ly went as limp as a rag doll. He couldn't stand up and his arms hung at his sides. Because he had doctored in Rochester, Joleen and Paul decided to go there immediate- ly. He went from emergency to critical care emergency, then to ICU. During his 10-week stay, Paul was in 10 different hospital rooms. '`i don't remember a whole lot for the first two-and-a-half weeks," Paul said. '`i was lying flat for two-and-a-half weeks, not able to raise my arms or legs." A bacterial infection--similar to a staph infection--had attacked the muscles in his arms and legs. To get at the infection, Paul had surgery on both shoulders and one knee. Doc- tors also found a problem with his neck, and expected to fred the infection there. When they did that surgery, however, they found both infection and a tumor on the third vertebrae which was deteriorated. Bone from his hip was grafted to the vertebrae, with a plate to protect it. The surgery was done from the front, with Panrs vocal cords moved aside. Paul developed aspirational pneumonia that nearly cost him his ability to talk, eat by mouth, or swallow. Doctors wanted to do a tracheostomy and insert a feeding tube. 'I wouldn't have been able to talk again," Paul said. "Joleen disagreed with the doctors. My liver doctor was standing there. He told the other doctors, 'I've known this guy three years. He's a fighter. He's not about to give up.' He just felt it would take a little time." It took about five days for Paul to improve, but he did and avoided the prospect of not speaking again. After the surgery and five radiation treat- ments, Paul realized that he needed to wear a neck brace. He wears one durir/g the day and a higher, padded one at night.. Paul Wendinger and "the best nurse in Rochester" that he brought home with him. Paul and Joleen wear "Team Paulie" T-shirts ilesigned and produced by family and friends. Photo by Ruth Klossner Before coming home, Paul spent three weeks in the rehabilitation unit at St. Mary's Hospital. 'q'he day he went to the rehab floor, a nurse ' greeted Paul with 'Welcome to Boot Camp,'" Joleen said. "When I was pushed in by cart, they asked me what my goal was. I said, 'Walking out of the hospital.' The second day I was walking with a walker," Paul said. "The therapists were very good. I think a lot of them. I have the high- est regards for the physicians and therapists at Rochester." While he was in a rehab room, Joleen was able to sleep on a cot in the room and could help Paul when he needed it. "It took two nurses to get me up from a sit- ting position, but Joleen could pop me right up," Paul said. "I tell everyone I brought the best nurse in Rochester home with me. I feel very secure when Joleen is getting me offa chair." Joleen's previous work experience--14 years at Enterprise North, a day facility for peo- ple with special needs--served her well. One of Paul's nearest experiences at occu- pational therapy in Rochester was when he used a deltoid machine to help him lift his arms. "He could play his concertina," Joleen said. "Everybody else stopped working and listened. One of his doctors looked in to the room and had tears in her eyes. She couldn't believe how far Paul had come." ''I played Bill's Waltz," Paul confirmed. "A week or so later, I was a lot stronger. You could tell by the louder sound. I can't play a lot, but I can play a little." Paul did walk out of the hospital, just as he had planned. "I did. I had to have help with a walker," Paul said. "I'm working on walking without the walker but, so far, I don't trust it." Paul continues to have a little trouble raising his arms and takes therapy at the New Ulm Medical Center three days a week. He enjoys the therapists who work with him and also being closer to home is a big help. "Every day I can tell that I can raise my arms a littler higher because of the therapy. We're working on strengthening the muscles," Paul said. "Fhe collar may never come off, it all depends on the healing process." He added, "For now, I can't travel and can't play (the concertina) but we take day outings. I don't want to do anything else but my therapy. I will walk some day, I know I will" Paul returned to Rochester recently to see his doctor concerning his liver cancer but doesn't have to go back again until April 15 when he will have a CI" scan of his liver and the vertebrae. Contest spotlights importance of roadside wildlife habitat Minnesota students in grades 7 and 8 have until April 7 to portray their view of the importance of roadside wildlife habitat through a statewide poster contest. The 26th annual Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) "Roadsides Are for the Birds" contest is for students liv- ing in Minnesota's pheasant range, which covers the southern half of the state as well as west-central Minnesota. "The contest is an effective and fun way to teach youth and adults alike about the importance of roadsides, an often over-looked resource," said Ca,melita Nelson, DNR Roadsides for Wildlife coor- dinator. "Ro'adsidehabitat pro- vides a virtual lifeline for many wildlife and phmt species." Generally conducted through art and science programs in local school systems, the contest attracts entries fiom numerous schools and students. Home school studehts in 7th and 8th grade also may partic- ipate. Last year, 77 students from 29 schools submitted entries. Both student winners and'their schools are awarded prizes, .including framed and unframed wildlife art prints, books, hats and T-shirts. Winning entries are dis- played at the Minnesota Deer Classic and Sports Show and at the DNR's State Fair Building.. Schools that have not received contest information or that would like additional information may contact Larinda Burg at the DNR's regional office in New UIm by calling 507-359-6035. 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