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Bears To The Rescue PDF Print E-mail
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Written by MITCH MAERSCH   
Wednesday, 09 August 2017 17:31

It wasn’t the diagnosis Heidi Sprang wanted or expected, and she got it multiple times.
It was unnerving enough when her 1-year-old daughter in 2012 was found to have retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eye.
But in April that lump in Sprang’s left shoulder was thought to be benign, she said.
“It turns out it was very, very rare cancer,” Sprang said.
Sprang had pleomorphic lipsarcoma, a connective tissue cancer that can showed up as a “pretty large lump” under her shoulder.
Sprang said only 500 to 1,000 people in the country are diagnosed with the disease per year.
Weeks later, doctors found something else. Sprang also had thyroid cancer.
“I thought I was a healthy person,” Sprang said.
Sprang’s father and sister both had cancer before they turned 50, a red flag for a genetic disorder, and doctors looked a little deeper.
Sprang was told she has Lynch syndrome, which makes her more susceptible than normal to getting certain kinds of cancer.
“So I’ll be watched very closely for the rest of my life,” she said.
Medical bills added up quickly, but so did something else: Teddy bears.
Deb Hamm, the pastoral assistant at Divine Savior Catholic Parish in Fredonia, where Sprang’s children attend school, came to the family’s aid.
Hamm, a Town of Belgium resident, said she liked to sew since she was a little girl. She made clothes, quilts, curtains and an array of stuffed animals.
Now she makes memory bears, and the Sprangs will never forget them.
“She just called us up one day. I’ve got some bears. Do you want to sell them at a fundraiser?” Sprang said.
Sprang accepted the offer, but wasn’t sure what to expect.
“We at the time didn’t know how many. We pictured maybe 10 or something,” she said. “She showed up with the first load with a huge garbage bag.”
That was the start.
“‘I have more,’” Sprang said Hamm told her.
“She showed up with five more huge garbage bags.”
The total came to around 160 homemade stuffed bears of all different kinds of colors and designs.
It wasn’t the first time Hamm had helped the Sprangs. When Natalie was being treated for eye cancer, Hamm came to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa a couple of times and prayed with the family. She has also brought groceries and meals to Sprangs.
“She came around again in our time of need,” Sprang said.
“My heart aches over what the Sprangs are going through. I wanted to be able to do something more than simply pray,” Hamm said.
In addition, the school has been collecting gift cards for the family.
“That’s really amazing, when you see the kindness come out in people,” Sprang said. “People we hardly knew were supportive.”
Helping people like the Sprangs comes naturally to Hamm, who said her large family has experienced many tragedies over time. She has donated bears to hospitals before.
“My philosophy is that if you can do something to help someone out, you should. Being a Christian demands something of us,” Hamm said. “Someone once told me if it was easy to be a Christian, you weren’t really being one. But it’s not just about my faith and being a Christian, it’s about being human. To be truly human means to really care for one another and reach out and help those in need.”
It hasn’t been an easy road for the Sprangs. Heidi’s thyroid was removed, and five weeks of radiation and multiple surgeries were necessary to eliminate the tumor in her shoulder. Along with it came muscle, fat and skin. She needs physical therapy to get her shoulder back up to par.
“My shoulder is out of commission. It’s more challenging than I thought it would be,” Sprang said. “My left arm is kind of useless now. I never kind of imagined that.”
Fortunately, Sprang is right-handed and the tumor was in her left shoulder.
If the aggressive cancer returns, chemotherapy is an unlikely option because it could make Sprang susceptible to leukemia due to having Lynch syndrome.
Sprang will now get a CAT scan and MRI every three months to see if she has any other tumors.
“I’m happy to be kind of through the thick of it and nearing the end. Now it’s going to be a wait-and-see kind of thing,” she said.
Sprang’s family has been hanging in there. Her husband Jason, she said, “puts on a strong face.”
Natalie, 5, hasn’t completely grasped her mother’s condition but did develop a fear of needles from her own experience and will be getting genetically tested for Lynch syndrome. She typically cries when the family enters the parking lot of a hospital.
“It’s hard to explain to a child that young that we’re doing this to help you,” Sprang said.
Sprang’s 9-year-old daughter Ahnaleigh is having a harder time with her mother’s cancer. She’s not sure about her teenage son.
“It’s always hard to read a 14-year-old boy with emotions,” Sprang said with a laugh. “He seems OK. He’s a good-hearted kid. He’s pretty mature for his age.”
Sprang said she sold some bears at the Divine Savior rummage sale last weekend and at her workplace, Dawgs in Motion in Saukville. Profits from sales help defray medical costs.
For information on buying a bear, call Sprang at (262) 689-5118 or via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . The cost is $25 per bear.

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