Thu, Oct 23, 2003
Town of Spencer
Faced with mounting bills related to a debilitating disease, a Spencer family expects to lose its home in April.
Tammy and Denny Frey have been living with the effects of multiple sclerosis since the disease was diagnosed in Tammy when she was 20, more than two decades ago. Denny, 57, is her stay-at-home caretaker.
"I have chronic pain. I was up (Monday) night screaming, I was in so much pain," she said.
There's not much the family can do to address Tammy's health problems - the disease has claimed most of her mobility - but they can advocate better state assistance programs. The Freys said the state needs to do more to help unemployed people who stay home to care for their spouses.
Denny lost his job as a draftsman for a modular home company in 1995, and within six weeks, Tammy, 43, had lost the use of her legs.
Since that time, Denny said he hasn't been able to find a job that would give him the freedom to also be his wife's caretaker, and the couple and their son have been living off less than $700 a month for Tammy's disability.
Tammy needs a fan blowing on her constantly because she has difficulty breathing. In August, she had surgery at Saint Joseph's Hospital and her heart stopped before doctors revived her.
"One of these days when I quit breathing, like I did once, I won't breathe again," she said.
After being on a three-year waiting list, the couple has received aid from the Community Options Program - or COP. The family has seen some benefits from the program, but Denny wishes it had come sooner, before the family's bills grew too big to handle.
The Freys refinanced their home twice to help pay for other day-to-day living expenses. They also maxed out about a dozen credit cards.
"We just haven't had the money to pay the (mortgage)," Denny said.
The program is designed to be an alternative for people who want to live at home but might otherwise live in a nursing home, said Vicki Tylka, long-term support unit supervisor for the Marathon County Social Services Department.
It provides assistance with things like housekeeping, meal preparation, personal care home modifications and other adaptive aids. The program is administered by counties and funded by state and federal funds, Tylka said.
In order to qualify, recipients must meet functional and financial eligibility
requirements, said Bruce Zanow, supervisor for adult services for Wood
County Social Services.
In the case of the Freys, they've received lift equipment and since April have had the services of a caretaker for 25 hours a week.
But COP hasn't been enough to help with the 24-hour care required by Tammy, her husband said.
"In reality, I work for my wife," Denny said, adding the state should have programs to compensate people in his position. "There's other people like us. We're not the only ones in this shape."
The couple tried home-based businesses and operated Shirts Plus in downtown Marshfield for about 18 months before closing it in late March. Their son, Brandon, now 19, helped at the store.
"Business wasn't good, and her health was deteriorating real fast,"
In fact, the couple still has more than $20,000 in shirts and other items, but it's been difficult to find takers, he said.
With very little income for the past eight years, the couple declared bankruptcy with debts of about $215,000, and the couple will lose the house they lived in for more than 20 years.
Denny said he's not sure what they'll do after this spring.
They've already been selling family heirlooms and antiques.
"We're losing everything," Tammy said.
There are about 10,000 people in the state with multiple sclerosis, said Dr. Loren Rolak, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at the Marshfield Clinic.
"A lot of people know someone with MS, frankly," Rolak said.
The disease occurs when the immune system attacks the brain or spinal chord, causing inflammation, Rolak said. The symptoms can vary greatly, but they can include temporary paralysis, double vision and blindness. Although most patients recover from these temporary attacks, the inflammation can cause damage and be debilitating in the long-term, Rolak said.
Doctors don't know what causes multiple sclerosis, and although the symptoms can be treated with medication, it has no known cure, he said.
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