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Poker run, benefit to support Bollhoefer cousins

Two former Newton residents fight deadly diseases

Published: Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 11:01 a.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 11:12 a.m. CST

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Families rally together offering support and encouragement when a family member faces an unusually difficult situation. For the Bollhoefer family, they’ve had to find unexpected strength for two of their members facing dangerous diagnoses this year.

Two former Newton residents Shawn and Megan Bollhoefer are cousins who have both lived happy and healthy lives but recently have been faced with tough battles.

Shawn, who graduated form Newton in 1991 and is the son of Mike and Linda Bollhoefer, is an avid bicyclist and, like many, enjoys such challenges as RAGBRAI.

He married classmate Wendy Olson and they have two children, Noah and Grace.

After RAGBRAI last summer, Shawn felt pain in back but dismissed it. Although unusual, he felt it was probably a side effect to his recent long bicycle ride.

After visiting his family doctor, Shawn performed a self examination and felt a large tumor in his lower abdomen. His doctor directed him to a gastroenterolist.

In December, Shawn had a colonoscopy performed where the doctor gave he and Wendy the news. It was advanced colon cancer.

Shawn found an oncologist, Dr. Michael Guffy at Ames Greeley Medical Center, who began his treatment with surgery to remove the large mass along with 11 lymph notes. It was just the beginning of a series of hard treatments, and Shawn was sent home on Christmas Eve.

In January, Shawn started the first of 12 chemotherapy treatments. The treatments were divided in half because of the severity of chemo, with 38 radiation treatments in between.

“It was a quick process, but I’ve had tons of help along the way,” Shawn said.

Shawn has learned a lot about a world he knew nothing about, from the day he walked onto the cancer floor to hearing others stories about survival. His gratefulness, thanks and appreciation is evident, and his love for his family a source of motivation.

Throughout the year, there have been good days and bad days, but Shawn has remained nothing but positive.

“You can’t look forward, you can’t look back. It’s just a one-day-at-a-time thing,” he said.

“Shawn has always been a great guy, especially this last year. His character has really shone this last year. Never once has he complained or not lived a normal life,” longtime friend Darin Swarts said. “He still has made sure Wendy, Noah and Grace remained his focus.”

Shawn has recently finished his 11th round of chemothearpy and will finish his treatment shortly after the benefit.

Right around the same time Shawn started to feel more ill, his cousin Megan, who graduated from Newton in 2002 and is the daughter of Chris and Karen Bollhoefer, started to feel ill as well. She had become short of breath, tired and had no appetite.

One morning in January, Megan went to shovel the driveway at her new home in Estherville when she passed out, hit her head and woke up some time later confused and frightened.

After going to the emergency room, nurses and doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with her after performing blood work.

Later, they found the right side of her heart was enlarged and there were blood clots in her lung. She had a tissue plasminogen activator infusion drip to break up the blood clots in her lungs, and she became swollen, gaining 20 pounds of extra fluid.

It was a temporary solution, but one that wouldn’t keep her stable for long. In the spring, she went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and spent a week going from doctor to doctor, looking for answers.

Megan found out she had chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension, a deadly blood clotting disease which creates high blood pressure in lung arteries.

The only answer or potential cure for a person with CTEPH is a pulmonary endarterectomy, a high-risk, major operation involving a bypass machine to remove the dangerous blood clots in the lungs that block blood flow.

For this operation, Megan will travel to the Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center at the University of California San Diego. From Aug. 26 to 29, there will be a standard testing period, and the surgery will occur on Sept. 3. The procedure is an 8 to 10 hour surgery where doctors will cool her body to just above freezing, drain all blood, pull the rib cage open and remove the blood clots.

“I’m ready,” Megan said. “It’s the only possible thing that can be done to cure all the damage that’s been done.”

For the surgery, Chris, Karen, sister Rachel Purvis and friend Brianne Ferneau will stay with Megan throughout her stay in San Diego.

Megan said she is overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from everyone in both her current community and Newton.

“It’s really heartwarming to know there are really a lot of good people there,” she said. “Everyone has been wonderful and great. It’s nice to know people are praying for you. It helps a lot.”

Shawn and Megan will be the focus of the Bollhoefer Cousins Fighting the Fight poker run and benefit on Saturday. Their families are hosting the events to further their support for the two.

The poker run will begin at 11 a.m. with registration starting at 10 a.m. The ride will start at the American Legion and then head to Cadillac Jacks in Baxter followed by RJ’s in Kellogg, D&T Tap in Reasnor and Mike’s Lounge in Monroe.

The run will end up back at the Legion in Newton. The cost is $15 per couple or $10 per person. The winner will be announced at the American Legion at 6 p.m.

The benefit will be from 5 to 10 p.m. at the American Legion with food and beverages as well as a silent auction items and 50-50 raffle from 5 to 8 p.m. Featured auction items include Iowa State University signed football, Iowa and Iowa State bag game sets, wine racks, guitar, iPad mini, numerous baskets and gift certificates. The costs is $6 for adults and $4 for children younger than 12 years old.

“Megan and Shawn have both been extremely positive and brave considering what they’re facing. They’re both so focused on getting healthy, which is the most important thing,” Rachel said. “I’m amazed and inspired by both of them. They’ve been nothing but strong and resilient through all of it.”

“We’re Bollhoefers. We’re fighters. We don’t give up,” Megan said. “We all have our own battle of fighting, but we just keep encouraging each other.”

All proceeds of the poker run and benefit will be shared among Shawn and Megan and go toward their medical expenses.

The family invites everyone to the poker run and benefit Saturday.

Contact Staff Writer Kate Malott at (641) 792-3121 ext. 6533 or at kmalott@newtondailynews.com.

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