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The Determination of Marilyn Wehmeir

Determination. Look up synonyms in the thesaurus and you will find “assurance,” “bravery,” “conviction,” “dedication” and “persistence.” Or you could look up Marilyn Wehmeier, a kind, gentle-hearted, retired nurse from Sandborn, Ind.

At 81 years old, Marilyn was determined as ever to participate in the 2014 Great Strides walk in honor of her 1-year-old great-grandson, Andrew, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) shortly after his birth in November. Although she had been through recent health complications and was in the middle of recovery, Marilyn was going to do whatever she could to support Andrew on that special day.

Good Samaritan Hospital was more than a workplace to Marilyn. It was where she met her husband, Ives. As a student nurse in 1955, she noticed a gentleman who appeared to be lost. Little did she know that when she offered to give him directions, she had found her future husband. Marilyn and Ives have been married for 59 years, with four children, 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

But 2014 got off to a rough start for Marilyn. Being a smoker most of her life and suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Marilyn was having a hard time recovering from the flu. On April 8, she collapsed in the Good Samaritan parking lot and was rushed to the emergency department. “I remember my dad calling me and saying that Mom collapsed and was in the hospital,” said Sharon Boberg, one of Marilyn’s daughters. “By the time I got there, she had been moved to Intermediate Care, and everyone knew that she may not be able to make it through the night.”

Dr. Johnathan Grant, a pulmonologist and critical care physician, came in to assess Marilyn and recommended that she be placed on bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPap) for the night. The BiPap kept the upper airways of her lungs open and, after only a few hours, she had improved greatly. “I truly believe Dr. Grant saved her life,” continued Sharon. “I was very impressed with the amount of respect he had for Mom and his bedside manner.”

After making steady progress over the following days, Marilyn had a decision to make: She could have someone care for her in her home every day, stay in a nursing home or go to rehab and try to build up her strength so she could live on her own again. Determined as ever to remain independent and participate in the Great Strides walk, Marilyn entered the Rehabilitation Center at Good Samaritan. “We were worried at first and didn’t know if she would be able to fully recover. We should have known better because she has always been a determined person,” said Sharon with a laugh.

Over three weeks, Marilyn underwent daily rehab. She made steady progress and often acted as a cheerleader for other patients. “I tried to do just a little more each day and was determined to stick to my goals. I wanted to get better for all my grandchildren, and I especially wanted to walk in honor and support of Andrew at the cystic fibrosis event,” she said.

“Everyone was excellent,” added Carol Huffman, Andrew’s grandmother. “Mom especially loved the rehab department. I think she realized that they were the ones to help her regain her independence, and she was willing to do whatever they said.”

Upon release from the hospital, Marilyn received home health and after care to help her continue to build up strength. She had given up smoking in the hospital and committed to staying smoke-free, doing everything she could to be prepared for the Great Strides walk in September.

On Sept. 21, the whole family showed up at the Great Strides 10K walk on the Vincennes University campus, including baby Andrew and his 4-year-old sister, Emma. Andrew was born on Nov. 2, 2013, with complications from cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disorder that results in severe damage to the lungs and digestive system. It’s caused by a defective gene that produces unusually thick and sticky mucus that clogs the lungs, often leading to life-threatening lung infections and pancreas obstruction. More than 30,000 children in the United States are affected.

Great Strides walks are held all over the country to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, a nonprofit, donor-supported organization dedicated to research and support of CF families. Tammy Howell, a registered respiratory therapist, is the local organizer. “Good Samaritan, the respiratory care department and friends and families of all the involved CF patients hope to continue to make this an annual tradition,” she said.

At the third annual walk at Vincennes, “Andrew’s Army” was an impressive force, raising over $10,200. Equally impressive was Marilyn, who walked the first lap with Andrew and the rest of her family. “The walk was truly amazing,” Sharon said. “It was wonderful to see all the families support each other and offer guidance for new parents of CF children.”

“Seeing all of my family at the walk and especially my grandma was really inspiring,” echoed Kathryn Turbek, Andrew’s mother. She added that the family is thinking of forming a national team and participating in Great Strides events throughout the Midwest. “Having the support of my family there and throughout the year caring for Andrew has made it so much easier for me,” she said. “That moment gave me a sense of reassurance that we are all going to be together for many more years.”