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Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Lee Carlson says thanks to a caring community


By Katie F.


Lee Carlson is well and thriving. And he would like to thank the many people of Annandale who helped him and his family through a very tough time.


This summer the former local resident observes the 11th anniversary of surgeries to remedy a chronic illness that had worn him down for the previous five years.


And in September, he will mark another anniversary - of the day a caring community came together and stepped up to help.


"We are eternally grateful to the Annandale community, which embraced us during our struggle," Carlson said.


"Life is great for me now. I am in good health and wake up feeling good, claims I could not have made for the half-decade-plus that I fought the ailments. I don't know how we could have done it without such a wide array of caring people that helped us in Annandale."


Carlson and his wife, Susan, now live in St. James with their three children, Sam, Madison and Logan.


And while he may have pulled up stakes to locate elsewhere, he says the kindness and support he experienced while living in Annandale have affected him in aspects both positive and permanent.


Having contacted the Advocate expressing a desire to publicly thank his benefactors, he has shared his story, along with its happy epilogue and attendant appreciation, through e-mail and telephone interviews.


It was in February 1997 that Carlson, then a 31-year-old English teacher and football coach at Kimball High School, was diagnosed with Cushing's Syndrome, a disorder that strikes only five people out of a million.


"My adrenal glands were producing four times what they were supposed to," he said, "and my blood pressure was 180/150 just sitting around."


For about five years prior to that diagnosis, he said, while suffering symptoms such as depression, high blood pressure and restlessness, he'd also been through every imaginable test and medication.


"I was so fatigued," he said. "I was really tired all the time. I was having muscle spasms, and I couldn't sleep more than two hours at a time. After five years of going downhill, the diagnosis was more of a relief than something scary."


Cushing's Syndrome is caused by tumors that grow in the adrenal glands, and Carlson made arrangements to have the glands removed the following summer, once his school classes had been dismissed for the season.


During a presurgical biopsy, it was discovered that he was also afflicted with an even rarer condition known as bilateral pigmented adrenal cortical hyperplasia - in layman's terms, a tumor lodged behind his heart.


Carlson's general practitioner referred him to an endocrinologist, who, as luck would have it, had recently attended a conference on the condition and was familiar with its symptoms.


"That was kind of a miracle in itself," Carlson said, "because the type I had, I think only about six cases had ever been recorded."


In early June of that year, doctors performed a biopsy on the tumor, which turned out to be benign. The following month, Carlson's kidneys were operated on and his adrenal glands removed.


"They said I would have had about two years without the surgeries," he said.


And the surgeries were followed by some complications, but by December, he said, "everything started falling into place - which was very welcome."


During the years they lived in Annandale, the Carlsons were well known and active in the community. In addition to teaching and coaching football, Carlson also coached junior high basketball and baseball and taught confirmation classes.


Susan, then a second-grade teacher at Bendix Elementary School, coached the girls high school track team and was active in Annandale's Women of Today as well.


Then, as they do now, the Carlsons credited tremendous community support with helping them to carry on through a daunting stretch of medical challenges.


"I feel that I still owe the Annandale community such a large degree of appreciation and gratitude for all the care, concern and kindness that surrounded our family during that struggle," he said.


Through a multi-community effort, a benefit was held Sept. 7, 1997, at St. John's Lutheran Church in Annandale to help the Carlsons defray extra living and medical costs that insurance didn't cover.


Contributing to the cause were Lions clubs from Annandale, Kimball and Fair Haven, businesses and church members as well as other volunteers from several communities.


The Advocate reported that month that in addition to volunteered time and supplies, there were also numerous monetary donations, including some matching funds from the Lutheran Brotherhood and the Aid Association for Lutherans. While volunteers did not have an exact count on attendees, it was noted that well over 300 pork chop dinners were served.


A life full of blessings


As Carlson considers all that has transpired since the summer and fall of '97, he says it seems hard to believe.


"I consider myself extremely fortunate to go from wondering if I would make it through the next day to wondering, 'How did the years fly by?'" he said. "Our life is one that is full of blessings."


In July 1999 the Carlsons moved to St. James.


"My father-in-law had died suddenly the fall before," Carlson said, "and it hit my wife very hard. So there was an opportunity to move closer to her family, and that is what brought us here."


He had secured a teaching job, and Susan found employment after the family relocated.


"It was a risk to give up our positions there, but it turned out very well for us," he added. "I'm currently entering my 21st year of teaching and will be moving up to head football coach for this season, in addition to assistant track coach.


"When we left Annandale, Sam was just 31/2 and Madison was not even a year. Now, Sam is nearly as tall as me, and with size 13 shoes, I think he will pass me soon. Madison is 10 and Logan is 5 years old."


Now 41, Carlson continues on a hydrocortisone medication to compensate for the loss of his adrenal glands, but he said he is enjoying a healthy, happy life.


"I'm teaching. I'm coaching. I'm watching my kids grow up. There's something new every day to learn and appreciate."


And with his troubles behind him, he said, he wants everyone who helped him through that difficult time to know their generosity was neither wasted nor forgotten.


"It might have been easy to just move on and focus on our new life," he said, "but I cannot forget the importance of our time in Annandale.


"I can't track everyone down and personally thank them. I don't even know who all of them are. To us, Annandale was a big town, and to have people you don't even know offering to help you out like that - that's what was so amazing. But ever since then, I've been trying to give back."


He keeps himself occupied with a variety of causes, and, while admitting that he sometimes gets too busy for his own good, Carlson added that he cannot take a day for granted and does whatever he thinks he can.


"That belief actually developed before I had my surgeries," he said. "There was no guarantee of success, since I was in such deteriorating shape, so when I heard of opportunities, they truly presented themselves as a last chance to do that action.


"If it was the right thing to do, I did it. Whether it be telling someone how important they were to me or volunteering for a relief effort to flood-stricken areas during the flood of '97, I just didn't want to leave with any regrets. After you do that enough, it becomes a habit. And now that I am healthy, it is even more enjoyable.


"I want people to know that their good deeds did wonders for us and have inspired me to grasp every opportunity to do unto others as was so kindly done to me.


"I know those kind deeds were not done with the expectation of a formal thank you or something of that sort, but, as I stated, I feel that I owe all of those people just that, a sincere thank you."


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More articles are needed by newspapers and periodicals on Cushings! Its nice to see that this man was able to get treated for it. The more educated people become, the better.



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