A gift of independence

March 23, 2011

A gift of independence

Echo Press | March 23, 2011 | By Tara Bitzan

DeAnn Runge of Alexandria was a senior in high school when she set her sights on getting a dog. She was looking for more than just companionship – she was seeking greater independence.

Runge suffers from spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic disease that causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness.

There are varying degrees of SMA, and Runge says she’s “in the middle” of the spectrum. She has never been able to walk and has limited upper body strength.

She was watching a Dateline television program about a girl with SMA who was aided in her daily tasks by a service dog.

“Instantly I knew having a service dog would change my life,” said Runge, a 1998 Jefferson High School graduate.

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When your health plan goes away

January 6, 2011

When your health plan goes away

What happens when your health care plan stops existing? You hope you’re already enrolled in another one — especially if you’re someone with physical disabilities.

Two recent stories from Minnesotans in MPR’s Public Insight Network show how changing plans can become a crisis for those who depend on them for medical care and services to live independently.

“Individuals experiencing disability, chronic illness … rely on [their health plan], sometimes hour-to-hour, day-to-day. These are critically important life support, safety, and security pieces,” Lance Hegland of Minneapolis told us.

Hegland, 38, has spinal muscular atrophy. He and 1,275 other Twin Cities adults with physical disabilities had to find new insurance plans after UCare decided to close its UCare Complete program, also known as Minnesota Disability Health Options (MnDHO), as of Dec. 31.

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My fave features of 2010

January 4, 2011

My fave features of 2010

Chaska Herald | January 3, 2011 | By Mollee Francisco

The life of a community newspaper reporter is like no other. No two weeks are ever the same. How many other professions can have you participating in an otter release one week and taste-testing wines another?

One of the things that attracted me to journalism in the first place was this exposure to a wide variety of experiences and people.

So, as we put another year of news to bed, it seems a good time to sit back and reflect on the stories that really made me feel lucky to get paid to do what I do. These are the stories that I start with “I got to … ” rather than “I had to … ” when I recount them to others.

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Staying Connected At A Distance

November 19, 2010

Staying Connected At A Distance

Rosemount Town Pages | November 19, 2010 | By Nathan Hansen

On Monday morning, Mary Kate Bigelow and her third-grade classmates were hard at work unscrambling words. But while Mary Kate could see the other students and hear the chatter of the classroom, she couldn’t turn and whisper with a friend. Couldn’t ask for help or share a joke.

Mary Kate was miles away from the rest of the students, sitting in front of a small white laptop computer in her Rosemount home.

For the next few months, a webcam and a microphone will be Mary Kate’s primary connection to her classmates at Red Pine Elementary School. Diagnosed at 6 months of age with spinal muscular atrophy, a condition that causes a wasting of her muscles, Mary Kate is particularly at risk to illness. That makes cold and flu season is a dangerous time for her to be around large groups of potentially sick kids. So, while friends deal with sniffles and sneezes this winter Mary Kate will stay at home. When the days turns warmer in the spring and the risk of illness fades, she’ll head back to school.