Saturday, December 24, 2011

A wee babe brings new hope



Wrapped in swaddling clothes, the wee babe lies still in the manger. Who could imagine that the God of the  universe could come to this earth as a tiny baby who would one day save the world?

While this year, has brought with it, many struggles, heartaches and disappointments, the King of Kings has never disappointed. He has pierced the darkness in our lives and offered us ray upon ray of hope made apparent in His mercy and the kindness of strangers.

Whether it be a kind word, a prayer, a visit, an uplifting card or letter, a meal, or an unexpected financial blessing--God lives in all those who have blessed our lives. It is my prayer that we also allow Christ's light to shine through us to bless the lives of others.

Merry Christmas to all my friends, family, and those who faithfully read my stories. God bless each of you and May the King of Kings bless your every breath.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Spirit of Christmas

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Tushaus01Ken and Pat Tushaus, members of St. Isidore Parish, Mount Calvary, and volunteers for Catholic Financial Life, share the spirit of Christmas at a celebration at St. Rose and St. Leo School in Milwaukee on Friday, Dec. 9. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)Anyone who doubts the magic of Santa Claus might want to spend a few minutes with Ken and Patricia Tushaus, a St. Cloud couple who share the spirit of Christmas with children and others year round.
The Tushauses, St. Isidore, Mount Calvary parishioners, are long-time members of Catholic Financial Life Branch 318, and believe in giving back whenever possible. For the past seven years, they have spearheaded efforts to share an early Christmas in Milwaukee at St. Rose and St. Leo Catholic School and Messmer Preparatory Catholic School to worship and bring holiday joy to Messmer’s urban students. This year, 940 students, most who come from low-income homes, received gifts, cookies and milk.
“We became involved with Messmer because we have been so impressed with the way (Capuchin) Br. Bob Smith has led the schools,” said Pat. “He does such a great job with the kids. We kind of adopted Br. Bob when he attended St. Lawrence Seminary High School with our oldest son. He has really become part of our family.”
Married 55 years, Pat, 76, and Ken, 78, have four sons, all of whom attended St. Lawrence High School Seminary, and nine grandchildren. Pat began helping out on her own at Messmer when Br. Bob took over as principal and CEO because she wanted to help the children feel important and have a good start in life.
“I started reading to the children at both schools quite a while ago and really enjoy it,” Pat said. “Since we have moved near Fond du Lac, I am only able to come up about once or twice a month to help them learn to read, but it’s really neat because they all get so excited when they see me. I always get a hug, even from the big boys and girls!”
According to Jeffrey Robb, development director of Messmer Catholic Schools, Pat’s reading efforts have made a substantial difference in the lives of the students.
Tushaus10With encouragement from teacher, Katherine Damanskis, St. Rose and St. Leo first grader, Jeremiah Whitney, reads part of a prayer with his class during a Christmas program at the Milwaukee school on Friday, Dec. 9. Volunteers from Catholic Financial Life participated in the program by giving out Christmas ornaments, rosaries and cookies. More photos can be viewed and purchased. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)“She does so much for Messmer; in addition to the Christmas celebration, she volunteers. Every month, ‘Mrs. Pat,’ as the students call her, is right here reading, spending time with the kids, helping them to know and understand that God loves them and has a place for them.”
Bringing the backing of Catholic Financial Life to the school was another way the couple could reach out to ensure that students had a memorable Christmas.
“About eight years ago, the branch wanted to help out in other communities and not just where the branch was located,” said Ken. “Pat and I suggested Messmer because Br. Bob does so much for the community, and he gives the kids a fabulous opportunity by helping them with their schooling. Attendance is in the high 90s (percent) each day, and they get discipline and a lot of love and attention. He looks at the students as a whole person and not just the academics.”
Pat agreed, and added that the schools help students in all aspects of their life.
“They are growing spiritually, nutritionally and forming a great personality,” she said. “They also learn charity and to respect each other and themselves. It shows in the enrollment, too, as there is a waiting list to get in.”
Each year, in early December, the Tushauses and members of Catholic Financial Life Branch 318 visit the schools and offer a themed spiritual reflection. This year the reflection was on St. Benedict the Moor.
“We wanted to do St. Benedict the Moor because he was a black saint who was persecuted because he was black,” said Ken, adding they wanted the students, many of whom are black, to know they can make a difference like St. Benedict the Moor did.
Following the reflection, students received cookies in the cafeteria, as well as rosaries, ornaments and the opportunity to visit with Catholic Financial Life volunteers.
“Our volunteers really enjoyed talking to the kids, listening to them and finding out what they do in school,” said Ken. “We wanted them to feel that they are special and important, so we try to make sure we communicate with them and help them to have a really nice day.”
Their continued presence in the school has inspired and touched the heart of Br. Bob, who considers the Tushauses to be “parents” in many ways.
“For as long as I have known them, they have truly lived their faith and set a positive example as good parents do,” he said. “For eight years, both Pat and Ken have sacrificed, volunteered and taken it upon themselves to recruit, organize and staff the Catholic Financial Life Christmas event. Months ahead of time, students, staff and community members eagerly await the Christmas prayer service. Students experience first hand what it means to give, not only financially, but of one’s time, to serve and truly demonstrate commitment.”
Almost as much as the students do, Robb enjoys the annual Christmas event and the devotion of the entire day to celebrating the faith lived.
“In working with Pat and Ken, I can see that sharing our faith and helping students to understand what it means to be Catholic is a critical part of the celebration,” said Robb. “What I love is that sharing and understanding (doesn’t) stop with explaining theories or concepts to students. It continues and includes actually providing an example of serving, literally. Pat and Ken and the many volunteers from Catholic Financial Life literally serve every student at both elementary schools, stopping into individual class rooms to provide cookies, milk and good cheer.”
Irma Esparaza, director of administration, believes that Ken and Pat are setting an example to students on stewardship and living the Catholic faith.
“Everyone gets so excited as soon as December starts approaching; the students all know what they have to look forward to during the Catholic Financial Life prayer service,” she said. “The Tushaus family understands what it means to live your faith. Not only do Mrs. Pat and Ken volunteer, the next generation is also preparing to serve. Lauren, Pat and Ken’s granddaughter, joined in the celebration this year as a helper elf.”
Giving back to others is part of the life of Ken and Pat, and in addition to the Christmas program, both help with Messmer’s book fairs. Ken also volunteers at a Fond du Lac hospice program and Pat works with a historical site organization.
“We just enjoy helping out, especially with the children,” said Pat.
“We get a lot of satisfaction too,” added Ken. “And just seeing them have a good time and talking to them is very beneficial and makes us feel good on the inside.”

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Order of Malta collects medical supplies for needy

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p.-12-15-11Malta02Michael R. Cesarz, left, and John Miller prepare to load some of the wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and other medical equipment into a semi truck on Tuesday, Nov. 15. The collected items were in storage at a Jones Island shipping container in Milwaukee. The Order of Malta, to which they belong, collects the items, for the Springfield, Ill., based Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach for distribution around the world. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)John Miller needs a wheelchair. He also needs walkers, canes, crutches and shower chairs.
Miller is not sick. Rather, he and other members of the Federal Association of the Order of Malta are collecting those and other items for the Springfield, Ill., based Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach to distribute to hospitals and clinics serving the poor throughout the world. Last month, a Mission Outreach truck picked up a truckload of medical supplies that the order collected and stored in a container at Jones Island in the Milwaukee Intermodal Terminal.
The Eagle resident and member of St. Therese in Eagle and Old Saint Mary’s in Milwaukee conceived the idea two years ago, after a bit of prodding from his wife to de-clutter the house.
“My mother-in-law died and we had her wheelchairs, canes and other supplies and my wife was after me to get rid of these things,” he explained. “The thought occurred to me that this situation must be repeated hundreds of times throughout the archdiocese. So I contacted the archbishop and put a notice in the chancery newsletter so pastors would know that the archbishop was behind this and supported it.”
Since the efforts began, the Federal Association of the Order of Malta has collected more than 400 pieces of medical equipment and supplies to benefit hospitals in Guatemala, Cuba, Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador and others.

More information

To organize a parish drive or donate individually, contact John Miller at (414) 431-3787.
The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, known more commonly as the Order of Malta, is a lay religious order of the Roman Catholic Church. Founded in 1099 AD, it is the fourth oldest order of the Catholic Church. The founder of the order, Br. Gerard, opened a hospital in Jerusalem to care for the pilgrims who had been attacked while making pilgrimage to the Holy City.
No longer sword-wielding knights, the motto of the Order of Malta continues as it began during the Crusades: “to defend the faith and serve the poor.”
Worldwide, the membership exceeds 12,000; the Milwaukee-based group is part of the Federal Association consisting of approximately 600 members.
“We have five active members and two in formation,” said Miller. “I enjoy being part of this group as it gives me an opportunity to serve the church through our primary mission to help the poor and needy throughout the world.”
Since the efforts began two years ago, the Federal Association donated $30,000 to purchase the truck used by the Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach, enabling the sisters to ship more than 250 40-foot containers with $110,000-$140,000 worth of medical supplies.
“The sisters also use the truck to pick up surplus supplies from hospitals and bring them to their center where they inventory everything,” said Miller. “This way, when a country requests certain supplies, the sisters know immediately if they are able to provide what they need.”
According to Fr. Tim Kitzke, pastor of Old St. Mary Parish, the Knights of Malta, who host monthly meetings at the parish, are a small, but enthusiastic group who simply want to help others in need.
“It is such an extraordinary, simple project,” he said, “We put the notice in the bulletin and people bring in medical stuff that is clogging their basements and attics to Mass; the order picks up the supplies and once they collect enough equipment, the mission picks everything up to be used again around the world.”
The last drive netted wheelchairs, canes, crutches, walkers, commodes, stabilizer boots, bed pans, elevated toilet seats, shower chairs, tray tables and even a hospital bed.
“This is a very simple formula and all parishes can help,” said Fr. Kitzke. “John and the guys are just men wanting to do good things for others in an easy, convenient way and they make it their mission to help others. I support them and it would be easy for any church to become involved as the men come to the churches and pick everything up. I have seven churches and they will come and pick up supplies at all locations. They are a reputable group who does wonderful things with a simple mission – and that is, to help others.”
The most difficult aspect of the order’s efforts is convincing parishes that the medical drives are a worthwhile venture.
“It really requires no effort on their part aside from finding a place to store the items until we can pick them up,” said Miller. “This is an easy way for people to help without having to give any money. Even better, each person who donates an item can get a tax deduction because we are a charitable organization.”
Founded by the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in 2002, the Hospital Sisters Outreach has worked to address unmet medical needs of people in developing countries through their medical recovery and redistribution program.
To date, more than $24 million in medical equipment and supplies have been distributed. More than 4 million pounds of surplus medical equipment and supplies destined for landfills have been recovered, inventoried and transported to needy countries.
“It really makes us feel good to help out like this and it is such a boost for our faith,” explained Miller. “When we pick up these wheelchairs and canes and other medical stuff, we realize that most of the stuff belonged to someone who is now deceased. The supplies were no longer doing anybody any good and now they will do some good.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Medtronics Neurostimulator Trial Disaster

Because I cannot find much information on this topic, I thought it might be beneficial for me to share my experience with others with the hope that no one else feels alone after adverse results following a neurostimulator trial.

For the past 25 years, I have dealt with low back pain. The pain began after I fell when I was pregnant with my third child. I chipped my tailbone and really had a difficult time during the remainder of the pregnancy with low back and sciatica pain. The pain ebbed and flowed over the years and to deal with it, I had physical therapy, chiropractic, inversion therapy, and medication treatment.

About a year ago, the pain became much more intense and an MRI showed dessication of the vertebra, bulging discs, stenosis of the lower back, and scoliosis. Because I have not witnessed a successful back surgery from anyone I know,  I opted for P.T and other treatments with a Pain Management Office. I've had denervations of L4 and L5 which seemed to help, but when they wanted to do one on the SI joint, our insurance company said no. The only other alternative was to go for a neurostimulator trial, a procedure that implants electrodes into the spinal space and sends electrical impulses to various areas of the spinal cord with hopes to distract the pain sensors. This is similar to a TENS unit, only on the inside and placed in the intrathecal spinal space. This procedure, by the way, is exponentially more expensive than the SI denervation--so not sure why the insurance company won't allow the less invasive procedure.

The procedure begins with extensive psychological testing to ensure that the patient is mentally able to handle an implanted device inside their body. After passing the 1200 question exam and the psychological evaluation, we set up the trial. I went in this past Friday for the trial. I was sedated for the procedure which amounted to implanting 3 ten inch leads into my spinal space. Each of the leads is wrapped in several metal bands which the Medtronics technician can use to program the external battery worn like a fanny pack for the one week trial.

When the procedure was finished, the technician began to program the device, which, when it was operating, felt like a buzzing sensation from my low back to my legs. Because of the physical nature of my spine, the sensation affected only my left side and both legs. I was sent home with a couple of programs to adjust, with instructions not to lift more than 5 pounds, bend or stretch my arms above my shoulders. I complied completely.

By the next day, I noticed a couple of things: I felt like I was very cold and had shivering feet, my right calf muscle was very painful and felt as if it was spasming, the sensations were not reaching my right side (the worst side), and it felt as if electricity was bursting from my toes and heels. I called the office first thing Monday morning and told them that I felt the trial wasn't working because of my symptoms. They had me come in and meet with the Medtronics tech who reprogrammed the unit to reach my right side. I felt so good when it had adjusted it, and was hopeful that this would lead to a permanent implant.

My enthusiasm was short-lived. By Monday evening, I was having trouble walking because both legs were hurting, I was continuing to feel cold sensations in my feet, my legs were swelling and I began to feel intense pain in my arms. I shut the unit off.

After a fitful night of only sleeping about an hour or two, I called the Pain Clinic Tuesday morning and told them to take the leads out and stop the trial. I could barely dress myself to get to the clinic because my  muscles hurt so badly. When I got to the clinic and explained everything (while sobbing uncontrollably) to the PA, she said that my symptoms were not from the stimulator trial and that I either had fibromyalgia or the flu. I have neither. The leads were removed and I was sent on my way with pain medication and told to come back in a month.

Left on my own, I began scouring the internet, chronic pain messages boards and information on spinal cord stimulators and saw something called overstimulation as one of the possible adverse effects of the procedure, but could find nothing about what this meant.

After spending most of the sleeping hours last night researching this condition, I learned that overstimulation of the spinal cord can cause all of my symptoms--but why didn't the Pain Clinic admit this could happen? Meanwhile, I still can barely walk, barely move my arms and still have the low back pain. To say I am frustrated would be a gross understatement. While I am glad to know that this condition is directly related to the spinal cord stimulator, I don't know whether these symptoms are permanent or not. I am praying that this pain will dissipate soon, but after extensive reading on this, I am concerned that this unit has caused irreparable damage to my body.

Now, I don't fault the stimulator or the doctor because I know that many people have had great success with these units. But where I do have a problem is that my symptoms were so easily and carelessly tossed off to fibromyalgia or the flu--rather than to the neurostimulator trial. And today, no follow up from the clinic or Medtronics about my problems with this unit. It just seems so wrong to me and makes me believe that the only thing that matters to them is making money.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Charities plead for more help this Christmas

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p.3HouseofpeaceCharities such as the House of Peace are getting record numbers of requests for assistance this holiday season, according to Gerri Sheets-Howard, House of Peace executive director. In the photo above, taken outside the House of Peace on Nov. 22, people leave the charity with boxes and bags of food. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)She dressed in unfamiliar clothes and shrouded her head, so as not to be recognized. The woman, a recently unemployed Milwaukee Public School staff member, hesitantly forged her way into the House of Peace looking for a bit of help. She broke down in tears when she asked executive director, Gerri Sheets-Howard, for some food to feed her family.
“This was a new experience for her,” said Sheets-Howard. “She didn’t want anyone to recognize that she was coming here seeking help. We helped her out with some food and a few words of encouragement. This was the best we could do at the time.”
Not long after this request, Sheets-Howard received a referral from another agency regarding an individual behind on his mortgage due to a work-related injury that did not allow him to work for several months.
“The mortgage arrears were such that we were not able to assist to the extent that would satisfy the mortgage holder,” said Sheets-Howard. “I also received a referral from another agency requesting Christmas toys for a mother of four. Even though we have reached the total amount of families that we can reasonably assist, this situation warranted that we include these children as well. As Br. Booker (Ashe) would always say, ‘It’s amazing what the Lord can do!’”

If you want to help:

Catholic Charities
Sharon Brumer
3501 S. Lake Drive
P.O. Box 070912
Milwaukee, WI 53207-0912
(414) 769-3543

Donors who would like to help
with the Christmas Giving Program
to adopt families or donate gifts
can visit the website www.ccmke.org
for more information. You may
also fill out forms online to participate. Alternatively, call
Catholic Charities to set up
donation opportunities.

House of Peace
Province of St. Joseph
- House of Peace
1702 W. Walnut
Milwaukee, WI  53205
(414) 933-1300

Christmas Clearing House of Waukesha County
P.O. Box 34
Waukesha WI 53187-0034
(262) 549-6635
Unfortunately, this Christmas season looks to be bleak for many families throughout the archdiocese unless some generous elves step forward to help. Similar to other organizations, the House of Peace is getting record numbers of requests for holiday assistance this year. Each year, the organization holds a food and toy drive, providing food for 1,000 families and gifts for more than 2,000 children. This year, the need is greater.
“I am sure that the economy, layoffs, downsizing, the unemployment rate and lack of adequate job training opportunities are playing a role in the increase in demand this year,” said Sheets-Howard. “We are doing the best we can at this time; we are asking donors to increase their holiday support so that we can meet the needs of the poor during the holidays.”
For Catholic Charities, the need for Christmas gift assistance has increased by a third. Last year, the agency provided gifts for 2,000 of Milwaukee’s poorest and most vulnerable individuals, and this year, the requests have topped 3,000.
In addition to job loss and underemployment, many struggle with increasing costs of everyday living expenses, explained Sandy Leske, Catholic Charities advancement director.
“Prices for basic items have gone up, such as gas, food and energy, which places additional financial burdens on those already struggling to make ends meet,” she said. “Paying extra for basic items leaves less money for Christmas presents and cold weather gear for children and families.”
These increased prices, along with a struggling employment market and stagnant economy, have created much smaller pay increases for the employed, as opposed to big increases in the cost of living, placing more financial stress on working families.
As with the House of Peace, Catholic Charities is seeing new clients who, until recently, were earning good salaries, but who were either laid off or let go. Now, many are employed again, but at half the salary; the other half continue to look for work, while their unemployment benefits are running out.
“This has brought us additional clients throughout the year, people who make too much annually to qualify for any benefits, but who definitely are struggling like those who are losing their homes,” said Leske. “We receive most of our clients from word of mouth or through their parishes. Some even were previous donors and are now struggling and need our services.”
In order to meet the growing needs, Catholic Charities is pleading for additional help from parishes, individuals, families, companies or groups to provide gift items for needy families.
“We definitely are in need of people to donate gift items,” said Leske. “At this time, we have enough gifts to provide for about half the individuals who are seeking help. We have a long way to go to meet the needs of the other 1,500 individuals.”
At the Christmas Clearing Council in Waukesha County, the theme is similar to Catholic Charities and House of Peace in that the need for help has dramatically increased. For more than 60 years, the Christmas Clearing Council has been helping children initially through its Empty Stocking Club. Last year the program coordinated giving to more than 4,500 children in the county.
The Waukesha community as a whole is struggling due to unexpected job loss, death of wage earners, divorce, abandonment, illness, disability or other crises. 
Without the help of volunteers and outside help, the children might not experience the joy of Christmas. Those interested in helping can select their desired level of involvement by choosing to sponsor a family, donate new toys or money, organize community service projects or volunteer in the center.
Backed by numerous churches, including St. Joseph Parish, Waukesha, schools, businesses and other organizations, the CCC needs additional volunteers to provide a Merry Christmas for Waukesha County’s littlest residents. According to long-time volunteer Peggy Troestler, this year’s needs are greater than last year.
“It seems like each year the needs have increased,” she said. “We are asking for extra donations from our regular volunteers, but could really use help from new donors. We are always in need of gifts and financial help. There are several toy sites throughout Waukesha County that people can drop their gifts, and if people want to give money, they can call us and set it up. We need gifts for anyone from birth through high school.”

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Prepare ye the Way of the Lord

Hope-the Second week of Advent

Think about it, what can one candle do in a dark room?

 "Prepare the way of the Lord" serves as the focus of this season. As we prepare our hearts and homes for Christmas, we should not forget to prepare our lives for Jesus, who came as "the light of the world." His light penetrated a dark world, which allowed all to see their Messiah, and the hope of their future.

Today, with darkness often feeling as an overwhelming cloak, we need to be mindful of the coming of Christ.We need to be as the bride readying for her bridegroom--we know not the day or the hour of his return.
Be ready and watchful, for the light of the world has come and will surely come again.

SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT: HOPE
We light a second purple or blue candle on the second Sunday of Advent to represent the hope of Christ coming to the world.

 God's plan for humanity was revealed in the town of Bethlehem, the birthplace of the wee babe, The Messiah, joyously fulfilling a long-awaited promise. Today we confidently wait for the Messiah's triumphant return.


DAY ONE: HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
"But you, Bethlehem, only a small village in Judah, yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from a distant past ... And He will stand to lead His flock with the Lord's strength ... Then His people will live undisturbed, for He will be highly honored all around the world. And He will be the source of our peace." (Micah 5:2, 4-5)
 Written 750 years before Christ, Micah speaks of the honor which will belong to Bethlehem. Christ's deity and humanity are shown here -- He is a shepherd, leading with the strength of God, bringing peace to His people.

 God's promises proclaimed and fulfilled inspire us continually to hope, watch and wait in God. The hope of Christians is not wishful thinking, but based on the historical facts of Christ's birth, death and resurrection, and in the confidence of His eagerly anticipated return.

Teach us dear Lord to hope only in you and to prepare our hearts and minds for your triumphant return. Thank you for lighting our path in a world often mired in darkness