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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • July 2017
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Reeling Dan Back into the Stream of Life

Dan Schwalenberg and his daughter, Alexis. Dan Schwalenberg and his daughter, Alexis.

I never thought in January that by June I’d be writing my third story featuring Lyme disease. I had never met anyone with that diagnosis. That’s exactly the problem. Many of those suffering from this insidious disease have never been properly diagnosed.

When those infected by Lyme and co-infections carried by the deer tick, and biting insects, are treated for other illnesses, the disease takes the opportunity to ravage many organs of the body before it is detected.

Dan Schwalenberg might be considered one of the lucky ones. He would say he’s been incredibly blessed. His diagnosis came quicker than many, and the Lyme disease specialist treating him predicts eventual 100 percent recovery.

Still, it’s been a long, dark road — literally. Unlike many sufferers, Dan’s initial symptoms were neurological. “Early in 2015 I began to experience panic attacks, depression and lack of sleep,” he said. “Heart palpitations, one of my few physical symptoms, have disappeared.”

But he lost more than a year of his life. A single father, Dan went through twelve months 90 percent disabled. He couldn’t take care of himself, much less his then-fifteen-year-old daughter, Alexis. He spent almost all of his time in the bedroom, darkened by heavy sheets across every window. His daughter lived alternately with her mother and with Dan’s parents, spending only fifteen minutes a week with her dad.

“I suffered migraines for months, and everyone had to talk in hushed tones,” Dan said. “My brain couldn’t handle my father’s deep voice and the sound of neighbors’ lawnmowers was torment.”

The fatigue was debilitating, Dan said, and he could manage to walk just from the bedroom to the kitchen and back. His life was sleeping and eating. That he was able to keep his own home is a huge blessing, he said. “Jesus carried me. How else does a person get through five months of darkness, with just a few moments of contact with the outside world?”

If Dan were the only one ever to suffer this way, he might keep quiet about it. But, even though awareness is slowly growing, he said, the medical community isn’t where it should be in diagnosing and treating Lyme. “Wisconsin is a hot spot,” he said. “The East coast is worse. And it’s spreading around the world.”

Dan’s sister, Lori, a member of the team planning a Celebration of Support benefit for him, said, “Dan is so passionate and driven to help anyone else with Lyme, to get them on the path to appropriate treatment. Even when he goes back to work, I have a feeling he’ll be doing something like that, on the side, in the future.”

Lori talked about Dan’s love for fishing, which led to the theme for his benefit: “Reeling Dan Back into the Stream of Life.” He also is an avid hunter, and his Celebration of Support, held August 11 at the Starlite Club in Kaukauna from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., will feature games focused around fishing, hunting, and other outdoor themes.

The Schwalenberg family knew Katy Zerkel, a Lyme sufferer we featured in January. When they attended her Celebration, Lori said, “We didn’t know much about Community Benefit Tree (CBT). Fortunately, we haven’t had a lot of health issues in our family, so we didn’t even know where to go or how to start doing a benefit.”

“Going to CBT was great for us,” she said. “They’re leading us, coaching us along the way about how to put on a really good, successful benefit. They’ve been so helpful to us. Because Dan is coming out of darkness, the theme color for the event will be a sunny yellow. We’re so happy that Dan is able to enjoy the sunshine again.”

Dan wants readers to know that Lyme disease should not be taken lightly. “People die from it and some are physically and mentally disabled from it,” he said. Again calling himself blessed, Dan said he hopes to be able to work part time in about a month.

Readers wishing to attend Dan’s celebration benefit to help reel him back into the stream of life can find more information at www.communitybenefittree.org

Kathi Bloy

The Community Benefit Tree Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization governed by Christian values. Our mission is to help individuals and families struggling with a medical crisis financially, emotionally, spiritually and with practical resources. We celebrate people’s lives and support by helping family, friends or co-workers plan a Celebration of Support event for their loved one. In the last 10 years, these one-day events have helped more than 500 families with funds for living and medical expenses. Community Benefit Tree also provides education, support, resources and financial assistance for families. For more information, visit communitybenefittree.org or contact CBT staff at 920-422-1919.

Kathi Bloy is a freelance writer from Appleton.

Website: communitybenefittree.org
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