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Paynesville Press - June 25, 2003

Friends, family plan benefit for Liesers

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

Until January, Mark and Lori Lieser led the hectic, happy lives typical of families with young children. Things changed in January when Mark suffered a stroke and Lori began having her own medical problems.

Now, instead of work, hockey, and baseball, their busy days involve hospital visits and rehabilitation.

On the morning she was scheduled to have surgery to correct her sleep apnea, Lori discovered something was terribly wrong with her husband. Responding to Mark's cries for help, Lori found that he was unable to move his left side and his speech was slurred. Doctors at Paynesville Area Hospital confirmed what Lori already suspected, Mark, at 43, had suffered a massive stroke.

Lieser family Lori took family medical leave from her job as a home health aid at the Paynesville Area Health Care System to care for Mark and help with his rehabilitation.

With Mark improving, Lori entered the hospital in mid-April for her own surgery. She expected to be back to work within a month, but she suffered complications and has been hospitalized several times since the surgery. Currently, she is in the hospital in Rochester fighting her latest setback.

While Lori is in the hospital, Mark and their sons, Cody, 11, and Grant, 7, stay with Lori's mother, Kathy Burg, who takes care of the boys and takes Mark to rehab every other day.

Hard work has helped Mark regain much of his movement, but he has lost enough cognitive function and short term memory to make day-to-day living difficult. "To see him walk down the street you would never know anything was wrong with him," said Lori, but she added that Mark no longer has a good grasp of numbers or math concepts, skills that are especially important for an electrician.

The stress of their parents' illnesses is beginning to take a toll on the children, said Lori. Grant is young enough to not fully understand what is happening to his family. According to Lori, although he misses his parents, he still thinks it's cool to spend nights at friends' houses and hang out at grandma's house. Cody, however wants his mom to come home to stay, he wants his father back, and he realizes that the family's finances are suffering, she said.

Neither Lori nor Mark have worked for six months now and it is unclear yet whether Mark will ever be able to go back to his old job.

According to Lori, the community began helping the family financially soon after Mark's stroke. Get well cards began arriving with gifts of cash in them, and they even received some large donations from anonymous sources. Still, the family soon exhausted their savings.

"It's not just medical expenses and groceries," said family friend Sharon Wendroth. "It's little expenses, like gas for trips to the hospital for Mark's rehab, that add up."

Roxanne Knisley, who works with Lori, figured the family had to be in trouble and suggested holding a fundraiser. "They would never say they needed help but we all know you need money to survive," Knisley said.

Although Mark was reluctant to accept financial help at first, eventually he agreed to the benefit, which will be held at the St. Louis Catholic Church on Sunday, June 29, from 4-8 p.m. The benefit will include a hog roast, a silent auction, and a raffle.

Letting her friends help was also difficult for Lori. "I was always the person who took care of everything," she said from her hospital bed. "I never thought we would ever have to have a benefit of our own." "We really wanted to do this," said Knisley, who is one of the benefit's organizers. "This is one thing the community could do together. You never know when it will happen to one of us," she added, recalling that when her own daughter was terminally ill, the community pitched in to help her family.

So far, plans for the benefit have gone much better than expected, especially since there wasn't a lot of time to plan it, according to Knisley

. Knisley recruited the help of the family's friends as well as the Catholic Aid councils at St. Louis Catholic Church, where the Liesers are active members, and at St. Margaret's Catholic Church in Lake Henry, where both Mark and Lori grew up.

So far donations have poured in, said Knisley. All of the food has been donated, including six hogs, so any money raised should go straight to the family.

Donations for the raffle and silent auction have been extraordinary, added Knisley. A cedar chest, a lawn swing, and a 26" bike, have been donated for the raffle, and items for the silent auction range from crafts to baseball tickets to a storage shed.

"This is simply overwhelming," said Lori. "We are blessed to have such good friends. I can't thank them enough."

Lori hopes to be out of the hospital, at least for the day, to attend the benefit in person so she can thank her friends and neighbors.

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