For a Waunakee family, life changed drastically beginning last March. Dana Fetters began experiencing numbness in her left hand and fingers. In the weeks that followed, her condition worsened and she began to experience headaches, nausea and walking abnormalities. As the symptoms progressed, she was in and out of the hospital several times, given steroids and physical therapy.
After two and a half months of Dana continuing a physical decline to the point she could no longer move her arms or legs, the Fetters traveled up to Mayo Clinic in May last year seeking a second opinion. She has remained a resident at Mayo for the seven and a half months since first being admitted.
Several procedures including a fusion of her neck vertebrae and a laminectomy—a surgery that creates space by removing bone spurs and tissues—were performed to reduce compression on her spinal cord.
In June, a spinal cord biopsy revealed Dana had a rare and aggressive cancer in her primary central nervous system, which also affected her brain stem. The same day she received her diagnosis, her breathing worsened and she was put on a ventilator, which she has continued to be on since.
Fetters was transferred to intensive care and underwent four months of chemotherapy.
Now it’s time for her to come home.
The family was hopeful the chemotherapy treatments would allow Dana to regain movement in her body, but at the age of 51, the damage that the cancer caused her spinal cord and brainstem means she will remain a quadriplegic and on a ventilator the rest of her life.
Becoming immobile has led to health issues including blood clots, pneumonia and fevers.
Respiratory therapists helped Dana get used to a new way of breathing and talking with her trach. She also learned eye gaze assistive technology so she can communicate with others as well as access email and the internet.
As the Fetters family prepares to bring Dana home, help will be needed.
“Obviously, this was a very unexpected life event that no one at age 51 thinks they’re going to face, and Dana’s been at Mayo Clinic for about eight months,” her sister and Waunakee resident Amy Lewis said.
Lewis said the family is preparing for the transition to her next phase of life.
“It’s going to be very expensive for them to make that transition... there has to be a lot of modifications made to their home. She’s now a quadriplegic who will be on a ventilator for the rest of her life. It will require a lot of staff and a lot of help to keep her alive,” Lewis added.
To assist with those costs, the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus—of St. John the Baptist Parish in Waunakee and St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Westport have planned a fundraising event for the Fetters.
Shane Fetters, Dana’s husband, is a member of the Knights and the organization reached out to him with their idea to support Dana.
“It was a little bit overwhelming that we didn’t even have to ask; they came to us with offers to help,” Shane said.
The Fetters Family FUNdraiser benefit is scheduled for Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 12, starting at 4 p.m. and continuing until the end of the game. It will be held at Saint John School, 114 E. Third St.
Food will be served including chili, nachos, jambalaya, popcorn, hot dogs, brats, walking tacos, and pizza.
There will be a suggested $50 donation at the door to enter the event, which will enter attendees into multiple raffles for prizes as well as give them access to the tailgate-themed food.
There will separately be a cash bar with beer, wine, soda and water.
While this is a family-friendly event where kids are welcomed, the activities offered will be geared towards adults, co-organizer John Cullen said. Cullen emphasized that the focus of the event is to be a benefit or fundraiser, not a party.
“It’s going to be fun, but her situation is very grave,” he said. “It will be family-friendly, but there will not be a lot for kids to do. Beer will be served. It’s an effort to make the community aware of the grave situation the family is in and let the community come support them in a fun manner at an entertaining event.”
In addition to the food, cash bar and raffles, the football game will be playing on a big screen.
The funds raised will be placed into a third party trust and will be used to purchase a hospital bed, ventilator and other respiratory equipment, powered wheelchair, wheelchair lift for the Fetters’ home, commode, remodel of bathroom to make it more accessible, a wheelchair accessible vehicle, in-home nurse or personal care assistant, and general medical supplies.
The total sum of these needs is in the tens of thousands of dollars, and many of those needs are either not covered by insurance or only partially covered, Shane Fetters said.
Shane and Dana have been married for 24 years and have two children, ages 22 and 18.
“Our family was obviously greatly impacted by this not just from a personal standpoint but also a financial standpoint, as there are a lot of needs not covered by insurance,” Shane said. “We know we have an amazing family and community surrounding us on this journey. My goal is to get Dana home and keep her home. I’m just looking for ways to get her home, get her back in her community, with the support we know is there.”
The Fetters have been active in the community, Dana’s sister, Dawn Obremski added.
“They need support not only financially, but also emotionally,” Obremski said. “While Dana’s family is able to assist to a certain degree, we can’t help them to the full extent they need, so we are reaching out to the community, as well.”