By MOLLIE RUSHMEYER
After five long years going from one surgery or hospital stay to another, thoughts of getting outside for one of her favorite pastimes, hunting, seemed nothing more than a dream to Jackie Wilwerding of Freeport, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and ciliary dysfunction.
That is, until Midwest Outdoors Unlimited helped to make that dream come true.
Midwest Outdoors Unlimited, headquartered in Melrose, is an organization started by Ron Welle of Melrose, helping chronically ill, disabled, and elderly people enjoy the outdoors by hunting and fishing.
Whatever is needed to get the person to the location, including transportation, and the equipment and guides once there, are all provided, free of charge.
And it was Midwest Outdoors Unlimited, along with Autumn Antlers Trophy Whitetail Lodge hunting preserve in Long Prairie, who brought Wilwerding out on a much-anticipated deer hunt after she spent so much time in a hospital bed.
This month the organization so close to Wilwerding’s heart, Midwest Outdoors Unlimited, will have its seventh annual fundraising banquet from 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 4, at the Hub Supper Club in Bertram.
Tickets are on sale now, $30 for a single ticket, $50 for a couple, and $250 for sponsorship and a one-in-10 chance of winning a firearm in the raffle.
“I am so thankful (to Midwest Outdoors Unlimited),” Wilwerding said. “I knew if I didn’t go on the hunt, I wouldn’t get out there at all. It helped me forget about everything for a while.”
In 2013, Wilwerding came down with the flu. She recalled many cases of respiratory illnesses among acquaintances. The problem—when others were getting better and going home, she continued to get worse and stayed in the hospital for two weeks with weakened lungs.
Wilwerding went to the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis for four months, then the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, where they finally discovered that she has a genetic lung condition inhibiting her lungs from filtering toxins and compromising the cilia functions throughout her body.
“It took the flu to discover what was going on,” Wilwerding said.
Her body started to decline, including her heart, stomach (which had stopped digestion) and esophagus. She underwent the removal of her entire stomach in September 2016 and portions of her esophagus in December 2016.
“It seems like it’s never-ending,” Wilwerding said. “I’ve had a lot of complications and set-backs. Some scary complications too, like 10 blood transfusions in five days. I was so weak and frail, doctors didn’t have a lot of hope I’d pull through.”
Wilwerding described incredible loss due to her new life. Loss of mobility and freedom. Loss of her ability to enjoy the outdoors and hunting.
“People take for granted the things they can do until it’s taken away,” Wilwerding said. “For five years, the outdoors and hunting was taken away from me and put on the back burner.”
Despite all of this, Wilwerding has stayed positive and leaned on her faith, family and grooming her horses to push her through this hard time.
In between doctor visits and her own medical issues, she and her boyfriend, Cory Beumer of St. Cloud, have assisted Barb and Curt Graves of Long Prairie with the annual Midwest Outdoors Unlimited fundraiser.
Wilwerding never asked for anything in return, but in 2016 the Graves put her name into a drawing to go on a deer hunt. After three failed attempts, due to her health issues, Ron Welle arranged a hunt at Autumn Antlers. Still recovering and even with the feeding tubes and oxygen equipment to bring along, she made the trek with her boyfriend and shot a 14-point buck.
“I look back at that day,” Wilwerding said. “The whole realm of positivity; it makes me hope for the future to get back out. I cherish it. Any other hunt I’ve ever been on hasn’t been as memorable.”
As for the fundraiser, she said, “This is a great cause. What Ron Welle (and Midwest Outdoors Unlimited) do is amazing. He impacts so many people’s lives by doing something so simple.”
Contact Barb Graves for more information (320) 815-2967.