Health woes, accident leave Vandeberg family reelingWendy Vandeberg steps into a power stance, knees bent with her fists clenched. “I wake up and say, ‘Bring it on!’ ” she shouts toward the ceiling. “I say, ‘Please don’t say that,’ ” her husband, Jeff, responds. The Vandebergs have had a rough 2011.
By: EMILY WALKENHORST , The Daily Republic
Wendy Vandeberg steps into a power stance, knees bent with her fists clenched.
“I wake up and say, ‘Bring it on!’ ” she shouts toward the ceiling.
“I say, ‘Please don’t say that,’ ” her husband, Jeff, responds.
The Vandebergs have had a rough 2011.
After years of health problems and steep medical bills, the family’s $1,000 emergency fund had to be used and replaced three times.
After filing for bankruptcy with more than $100,000 in debts last year, the family of four has seen its medical bills stack up again to about $10,000 beyond what insurance covers.
Jeff has diabetes, daughter Brittany, 23, has a rare chromosomal disorder and daughter Lexi, 19, has been having stress seizures and was seriously injured in a car accident in May.
“It seems like it just keeps adding up, but we just keep taking it,” Jeff said.
Because the driver of the car, which slid into a ditch and hit a tree, was uninsured on his father’s plan, the family is awaiting a court decision regarding the driver’s liability for Lexi’s medical bills of about $25,000.
She had four broken ribs and a punctured lung, which kept her house-ridden for three weeks for fear of the lung collapsing and her stress seizures returning.
Brittany has Trisomy 1Q42qtr, which means part of one of her chromosomes has attached to another chromosome. She has recurring upper respiratory infections and is considered moderately to severely developmentally disabled. The Vandebergs have been told only one other person in the world has the same kind of trisomy, a boy in Sweden. Brittany has undergone 22 surgeries in her life and requires constant one-onone care. Doctors thought she wouldn’t live past 7.
Lexi had always been the healthy one, her parents said.
But after her first seizure on Jan. 1, more followed, and the family had to medically withdraw her from her freshman year at Northern State University.
Lexi spent a few weeks in March at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on the epilepsy floor. The seizures were ultimately determined to be the result of stress, not epilepsy.
The stress is something Lexi will have to learn how to manage for the rest of her life, Wendy said.
“She’s really been through a lot,” Jeff said.
The family was relieved Lexi didn’t have epilepsy, but while the family was in and out of the hospital this year, Wendy ended up not working for several weeks. She received a personal assistance fund from her workplace after she ran out of paid time off.
People often ask the Vandebergs how they pay for everything.
“If it’s your family, you do it,” Wendy said.
Actually, paying it all is tricky.
They lost their home — Jeff’s childhood home — when the recession hit and had to move into another house.
“I don’t know how we do it,” Jeff said.
“We aren’t doing it,” Wendy replied.
Wendy works full-time as a nurse at Avera Brady Health and Rehab and held two other jobs earlier this year when Jeff and Lexi were both too sick to work.
Because of the family’s financial difficulties, Wendy is putting off some medical procedures of her own, she said. Jeff, despite his diabetes, avoids seeing the doctor because of the possibility of more medical bills.
Now Jeff is able to work fulltime at Sportsman’s Car Wash, and Lexi, who still has student loans, is a full-time manager at Culver’s. She hasn’t had a seizure in three months.
Brittany spends her day at LifeQuest, a nonprofit agency that provides services and support to people with developmental disabilities.
The family’s church, Trinity Lutheran, hosted a fundraiser for one of Brittany’s surgeries in 2004 and raised $4,500.
The church is hosting another fundraiser at 6 p.m. today at Patton Young Park, featuring a grill-out, silent auction, games and softball.
The church also gives the family gas cards and grocery cards, even though the Vandebergs have never asked for them.
“(We) couldn’t live without them,” Jeff said.
Accepting the help is difficult for the Vandebergs. Wendy and Jeff often insist that they are not the family who needs the money the most. But the church doesn’t relent.
“They’re a family in need, and if there’s a member of our faith community in need, we try to help them out,” said Trinity Lutheran interim pastor Robert Hansen.
The Vandebergs receive some financial support from family, but mostly it’s emotional support.
Family members have driven across the Midwest for Brittany’s surgeries and to stay with Brittany in the hospital so Wendy, Jeff and Lexi could get a break.
The family has received charity from strangers, too.
When their Suburban broke down on the way to Rochester, a Worthington, Minn., body shop towed and repaired the SUV for free and gave the family a car for the week, also for free.
A worker at the shop even called the family just to ask how Lexi was doing.
Brittany received front-row tickets at a Shania Twain concert after a woman overheard the family singing “Happy Birthday” to her in the section for people with disabilities.
Brittany listens to Shania Twain to get through her surgeries.
“We always seem to just get hooked up with the right people,” Jeff said.
“We’re just blessed,” Wendy said.
Wendy said she gets through the day with Zumba — a Latin dance workout — and faith.
“Proverbs 3:5, that’s how we handle it,” she said.
The Bible passage reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”
She’s contemplating writing a book about her family. The working title is “Sunshine and Skidmarks.”
“You’re driving along and everything’s sunny and warm,” she said, “and you’ve got to hit the skids.”