‘No victims here’ – A different kind of Christmas for Silverton family

December 2022 Posted in Community, People

By Dixon Bledsoe

Imagine life is humming along like a finely tuned sports car. Wonderful spouse, four awesome sons, a huge extended family full of love, faith, support and laughter. A job you love, and you like to run. Running with your wife is fun and stress-reducing. 

Then, you notice the running is not as efficient. Small wounds take forever to heal. Hah. Just age creeping in.
A brutal headache takes hold and the vision in your left eye is fading. 

Paul Kuenzi, husband, father, son-in-law, consummate family man, electrical engineer, and great chef knew trouble when he saw it, albeit from one eye. His condition got the immediate attention of professionals at Kaiser Permanente. 

Wife Krista said, “I remember talking to Paul’s sister and telling her, ‘Whatever this is doing to him, it’s bad. And it’s killing him right before my eyes.’”  

Paul and Krista Kuenzi and their four sons: Zach, Landon, Griffin and Brody.

Paul and Krista Kuenzi and their four sons: Zach, Landon, Griffin and Brody.

The diagnosis? Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). The prognosis? Fatal without a stem cell transplant. Chemo and radiation are needed to conduct a successful stem cell transplant. A 100% match donor located overseas, lost through non-response. Two sons who are a 50% match. Zach is older. Not a moment’s hesitation. It is his dad. “Tell me what I need to do, and I will do it.” 

The first transplant stalled – Zach gets COVID. Then a scheduled transplant is postponed twice this fall with a leukemia relapse. More chemo. Suddenly, it is transplant day, Nov. 24. Zach takes it like a trooper. Paul is the recipient of some fighting mad stem cells from the 18-year-old. Today? It looks like those youthful cells are winning. Paul and Kristi are in isolation as he recuperates.

Others are doing their part in quiet ways, like friend Julie Gilkison who engineered a meal train for the Kuenzis. Meanwhile, Brody, the Kuenzis’ second oldest son – now 16, passes the hardship driver’s license at 15 that allows him to drive Griffin (14) and Landon (12) to school and to work on approved routes. “I drive us and take us to places that we need to get to.” Paul and Krista are very proud of him.

Jan and Mike Bothum, Krista’s parents, stay with the boys, prepare meals, and make sure there is a sense of normalcy as Christmas looms. It is from them that Krista gets her strength.

“I was raised by my parents to be strong. One childhood message I believe us girls (Krista, Katie and Courtney) always received loud and clear from our parents is that we are capable. Of course, it is hard, but I feel like we are all following Paul’s very matter of fact, ‘no victims here, we will get through it’ lead. We aren’t here to be or raise victims.”  

Mike says, “You always think it will never happen to you. One checkup, one phone call can be life changing.” 

Angela Weir is Krista’s best friend. She lives on the East Coast, grew up in Silverton, and the two remain thick as thieves in a friendship full of fun, love, candor, and spice. Angie has been there for the Kuenzis from day 1, organizing a Caring Bridge blog, and a GoFundMe fundraiser. To date, over $63,000 has been raised from more than 300 donors. 

Financially, it hasn’t been easy. Paul, modest and unassuming, states, “I haven’t worked since March, but fortunately we have disability insurance that covered most of the initial expense. At this point, we have transitioned to using the donations from the community to help cover the growing gaps.” 

Adds Krista, “I feel so lucky to have a husband that had saved enough money to get us this far without major stress. But who would expect to have to cover THIS long without income, let alone a child in college with three more planning to get there, soon. It is humbling to go from one extreme to another. When Angie called on that first day and told me she wanted to do this GoFundMe for us, I said no. I felt too proud and too private to have our story and our need out there. I am thankful I surrendered and that she did that, and continues to do that, for us. It is a place of peace to know it is there.”

“They will never ask. Please don’t forget about them,” Angie says. “This is not over. I wish everyone in the world could have a Krista in their lives; better yet, a Krista supported by a Paul to keep the sanity down a notch.” 

As for the boys? Angie says, “You can only imagine that even on a bad day, most will only see the strength instilled in them (and likely stubbornness from my favorite redhead!)”

Krista adds, “What we can glean from Zach… We are working on him, but he HATES attention, so this is all very outside his wheelhouse. The toughest part for him was self-administering the three belly shots for three days.” Of Angie, Krista feels “she is exactly who I want on my side in a crisis.”

Thanksgiving was tough, touching, and controlled chaos given two separate households. And this will be a different kind of Christmas. Zach is at OIT doing great in a pre-med program. Brody is driving Landon and Griffin to and from school. “Grandpa Bo” is working at the farm with his “suspect” tractor skills, given that Paul has some faux trepidation about his father-in-law on Paul’s favorite tractor. Grandma Jan, the retired and still volunteering teacher, helps manage the household. Paul’s family and Krista’s sisters’ families are there regularly, helping where needed. There is a whole lotta love in these two extended families, and faith. 

Says Paul, “Faith isn’t something we wear on our sleeves but there is a comfort and security knowing that there is a higher power helping to guide us through this journey.”  

Krista says, “I love that word, faith. It means ‘Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.’ I have complete trust in God, and I have complete trust in Paul.

“There are families out there in our situation, or worse. The holidays don’t make it easier. What works for me is instead of getting lost in everything we don’t have this year, I try to focus on everything we do. And God willing, we will have many, many more Christmases to celebrate.”

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