New home for brain tumor survivor

Don Wilhelmi is a former master craftsman, home builder, wood worker and artist, husband and father. He and his wife Julie left their hometown of Lake in the Hills, Illinois, their jobs, their family to live their dream of building their custom dream home in Pagosa Springs, CO.

In Illinois, Julie was working as a social worker for the state and Don was a successful realtor. They had visited Colorado and fell in love with it. In 2000, they purchased some land and moved into the old, small, unfit, one-bedroom,1970's mobile home that was on the property as temporary housing while their dream home plans were soon to be underway. City permits forced Don to build the garage and barn first since there were already existing foundations. He had to leave the home for last.

After he built his beautiful woodshop and garage he began his amazing barn and greenhouse. Both came out absolutely stunning. Soon after the barn was completed, he was diagnosed with a life threatening meningioma, a serious tumor that was wrapped tightly around his brain stem and left inner ear. Unfortunately, construction had to stop as he now had extremely bad headaches and other health problems.

After several months of being turned down by doctors and surgeons and having trouble getting insurance, he finally was able to get covered under Colorado's Affordable Care Act and get the life saving surgery he needed.

The surgeons at Coloroado's Swedish Hospital were very optimistic and assured him he would be healthy and normal after a few weeks and get back to his life and dream of building his new home. Unfortunatley, the surgery did not go as planned.

The 17+ hour surgery that only removed a part of the tumor took a terrible toll on his brain, nerves and body. He was left with a debilitating brain injury and irreversable nerve damage. He was no longer able to walk, talk, eat, and he was experiencing exreme pain and anxiety on a daily basis. He could not sleep for several weeks. He was in the hospital for over a month to recover. He woke up with a terrible hematoma, extremely bad bruising that caused him pain for over 6 months after the surgery. He has been on a feeding tube directly to his stomach for over 6 years due to nerve damage to his throat. The left side of his face had become completely paralyzed and he has lost all ability to move it. The sagging skin and atrophied muscle on his face had to be surgically removed. His throat also needed surgery due to water and food entering his lungs and causing pneumonia. Among many other side effects, the anxiety was the by far the worst part. The surgery triggered a 3-year period of constant fight or flight anxiety. He would have daily, hourly periods of physical and extremely painful panic attacks that were completely uncontrollable.

Since the surgery, he has fought every single day to recover. His biggest motivation is to be able to be with his four grand children and visit his brothers, sisters and children, and recover enough to be able to build his wife her dream home. He has done everything in his power to recover and become healthy, through diet, exercise western and eastern therapeutic and medical treatments. He works out with a personal trainer at the gym. He re-taught himself to walk, talk and eat normally. He has also been leading a community brain-injury group at his local community center. He is a pillar and a joy to his entire community. During this time, Julie has gotten a job managing a warehouse in Pagosa Springs, working full time while being a full time care taker. We tried to hire a care-taker and nobody from the area would take the job. They have no family in the area to help and they have a few kind friends who offer rides and other assistance whenever possible.

After all of the progress he has made over a 6 year period, unfortunately, many symptoms have returned over the last 2 years due to regrowth of the tumor. The tumor had grown back extremely large and intrusive. He had to have another surgery. The second surgery happened this November. Thankfully, the surgery went perfectly and he sustained minimal damage. However, Don has a very long road ahead of him for recovery. Talking, walking, eating, breathing and much more has become something he needs to relearn once again. His fragile brain stem has a lot of healing to do, and it seems to be that he will never have his dream home.

I am asking for donations for a beautiful manufactured home that can be delivered and installed onto their property to take the place of their current run-down, old, small mobile home. Please consider making a donation towards the purchase of a new home, so thay can live comfortably and Julie can focus on taking care of Don, and Don can focus on recovering and they can have a comfortable home that his children and grand children can stay and visit.

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Sara J Patterson 
Oak Park, CA
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