Local family donates to local responders
BY TINA L. SCOTT
It’s not often, but on occasion, fire and medical personnel get to meet with former patients after an incident, said Josh Klug, Fire Chief at Merrill Fire Department (FD). In October, 2021, former patients from a December, 2020, auto accident contacted the Merrill Fire Department to meet with the personnel who had helped them during their time of need.
“This time the patients not only contacted us to meet with them, but they also wanted to give back to the community through a donation to our department,” Klug said.
The patients were Ruth Nelson-Lau and Dan Lau from Merrill. “Ruth worked as a Nurse Practitioner at the walk-in clinic of Good Samaritan Emergency Department from 2003 – 2014, so she has been around her fair share of medical emergencies,” Klug said. “Additionally, many Merrill FD staff knew her well from the many ambulance calls that we transported there, as well as the clinical time we spent in the Emergency Department with her during our paramedic upgrade in 2006.”
“Dan and Ruth generously donated $1,000 to our department, which was used to help purchase Handtevy, a pediatric resuscitation system proven to save lives and reduce errors.” Klug said. “We are so grateful for their donation and glad they were willing to share their amazing story.”
“The year 2020 was a bad year for, as it was, for a lot of people,” Ruth said. “In January, we began the process of getting Dan evaluated by the transplant team at UW-Madison. It is a very thorough and somewhat grueling process. The workup revealed that he was weakly positive for histoplasmosis, a fungal infection in the lungs. He started a year’s worth of anti-fungal medication.”
“In June, his kidney function declined to the point that dialysis needed to start. We had a week of training, then we started doing a peritoneal dialysis treatment every night at home,” Ruth said. “Just when things seemed like they were settling down, my 62-year-old sister let me know that she was terminally ill. She lived with my 93-year-old father who has heart failure and dementia. This was all happening in Minn., 5.5 hours away. I had to look for placement for my dad, as well as come to terms with the fact that she was dying. That was late October .”
“My sister enrolled in hospice care Oct. 30; my dad moved to the nursing home Nov. 5. The good thing was that my sister and dad were in the same facility,” she said.
“My sister died Nov. 16,” Ruth said. “While planning the funeral, we stayed with my aunt and uncle. I found out from them that they were diagnosed with COVID five days before my sister’s funeral. Dan and I started feeling unwell four days before her funeral and were diagnosed with COVID. By this time, it was too late to scrub the funeral, so we were not able to attend. This was the week of Thanksgiving.”
“We were finally feeling better in December and had to scrub Christmas plans with immediate family, as our granddaughter was possibly exposed to COVID.”
All of this leads up to that fateful day last December. “Feeling cooped up with a good case of cabin fever, we took a drive to Tomahawk on Dec. 26 to visit Dan’s brother in their new home on Lake Alice,” Ruth said. “We were on our way home from there when the crash occurred.”
“I had just dozed off; Dan was driving. There was black ice on the road, and next thing I knew, we were in the ditch, turning end over end three times. Talk about a rude awakening!”
“Luckily some Good Samaritans were in the area, saw our crash, and stopped immediately,” she said. “They called 911, and before even a few minutes passed, two first responders from the Town of Russell were on scene. They did a great job, especially helping Dan, as he was having severe back pain and couldn’t move his legs.”
“Then it wasn’t long and two ambulances [from Merrill FD] pulled up and began the next phase of our care,” Ruth said. “It was such a huge relief to me that I knew three of the four paramedics. They discussed sending Dan to Aspirus right away, which I was very relieved to hear, since his kidney doctor is there. The adrenaline was telling me I wasn’t hurt that bad, but Tyler and Jason convinced me that I needed to be evaluated, due to the mechanism of the accident/injury. So, off I went to Aspirus also.”
“Turns out I had an L1 compression fracture and a mild pulmonary contusion. I got a back brace and was able to go home that evening. The news wasn’t so good for Dan. He had an L1 chance fracture, a spinal cord contusion, and a pulmonary contusion. He was admitted to the hospital. He spent one week in acute care and three weeks on the rehab unit.”
Dan came home in a wheelchair and in a “turtle shell” back brace and required home health physical therapy for a couple of weeks and was then able to transition to outpatient therapy. “It has taken a long time, lots of prayers, and a great care team,” Ruth said, but Dan was able to return to full function and walk again. “When he is fatigued, he still uses the wheelchair, but he can walk with a wheeled walker, a single point cane, and now can go short distances without an assistive device. We are incredibly grateful for everyone who was involved in our care. Without their skills, this story could have had a different outcome.”
“We were always diligent in wearing our seatbelts, and we are certain that those seatbelts and air bags saved our lives!” she added. “Dan did his best to steer away from the trees to avoid a head-on crash with them. We were in a sturdy vehicle; the passenger compartment was pretty much intact.”
“We are so happy to live in a community that is staffed by such excellent emergency care providers,” Ruth said.
The accident was in the Town of Russell so both Russell Fire Department and First Responders were dispatched in addition to Merrill Fire Department ambulances, Chief Klug added.