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Articles About Connie


published Sunday, August 31, 1997

Lakes Area dealing better with AIDS By RENEE RICHARDSON Staff Writer PILLAGER,MN

How the Brainerd lakes area deals with AIDS issues has changed dramatically in four years.

At least that is the viewpoint of Connie Statz.

The Pillager resident, wife and mother was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS in 1981 following a blood transfusion.

Statz said she never had an opportunity to decide whether to be in the public eye or not after her condition and name were announced at a church gathering not long after she was diagnosed.

Since then Statz took on the role of an activist, speaking to youth groups, providing interviews and serving on Gov. Arne Carlson's task force on AIDS issues.

She spoke to about 920 young people at various youth retreats throughout the years, served on the Hospice Board for HIV/AIDS Services at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. And she talked to students in cities from Pequot Lakes, Pillager, Nisswa, Alexandria, to Holdingford.

In the beginning it was difficult. Statz said she received hate phone calls. Others did not understand the disease and some no longer wanted to talk to her. Some were afraid to come within speaking distance.

"And that has totally changed," Statz said. "I'm really proud of that change that has taken place."

Diane Smude, at St. Joseph's Home Care, agreed things have changed for the better in the three years she has worked in the facility. Education efforts and programs have increased awareness and services available in Brainerd.

For rural Minnesotans struggling with HIV/AIDS, issues can be as basic as help getting to town for errands. Statz who was forced to resign from the governor's task force because of health concerns, said the issues there tend to be metropolitan ones, Statz said.

Without a voice speaking for access issues in rural parts of the state, that will go unchanged, she said.

For the second year the lakes area provided a summer camp for children and families affected by AIDS. Statz had the idea for the camp about three years ago and worked with community and health organizations like Lutheran Brotherhood and St. Joseph's Medical Center.

"Brainerd has turned into a community they are really watching closely," Statz said of state officials. "They would like other rural towns to mimic what we are doing."

In the lakes area, Statz said she found more good than bad because she's seen it.

Statz said she knows medical breakthrough's now will probably not help her, but by staying on top of the information available about issues like medications may add time. And adding her own experience to the mix may help others, she said. For Statz time is an issue.

"I want more time," she said quietly. "I want more time with my family."
ęCopyright The Brainerd Daily Dispatch 506 James Street, P.O. Box 974, Brainerd, Minnesota, U.S.A. 56401


published August, 1997

Pillager resident Connie Statz, long-term AIDS survivor, talks about the disease and its toll from her sister's home in Lake Shore. Statz' family is searching for a potential computer system donor to keep Statz connected as health concerns keep her home more often.

16 years with AIDS often isolating By RENEE RICHARDSON Staff Writer PILLAGER,MN

After 16 years with AIDS, Connie Statz of Pillager is still fighting.

Now the fight has taken on a new dimension to remain connected to others, which is becoming physically more difficult to accomplish. Nerve damage, a byproduct associated with disease, has made use of her hands and legs more of a challenge. Just holding a pen is difficult.

"I can sign my name and some days I can write but not for a very long time," Statz said. "And I'd like to communicate."

Speaking with coffee cup in hand at her sister's dining room table in Lake Shore, Statz reflected on the emotional toll of AIDS and the isolation that seems to follow.

She was forced to give up speaking before youth groups and resign her position on Gov. Arne Carlson's task force on AIDS issues. She spoke for a youth retreat on Christmas Day and ended up in critical condition.

"It gets real emotional ... so I've got to stay away from those things that cause me stress because it comes out of me physically. ... I'm not as strong as I used to be, but up here I feel strong," she said pointing to her head. "Each year I lose more and more of myself and this year it's been more of a physical loss than mental."

Behind the ravages of AIDS, Statz remains a woman determined to remain connected and active in AIDS issues. Statz contracted the deadly virus in a blood transfusion in 1981.

As a long-term survivor, Statz said she knows of no one who has battled the disease as long. And there is no one in the area to talk to about the medical concerns that are specific to long-term AIDS sufferers.

Untreated for 12 years before she was diagnosed, Statz, married 23 years with children of her own, said a lot of damage was already done before treatment began.

"I don't want to see myself in a wheelchair and I don't want to hear that I should get my things in order," Statz said. " ... I've got to talk to somebody who knows where I'm at."

One hope Statz' family has is that computer access and the Internet will provide the link to information and people and allow her to remain active without taxing her energy levels.

"She needs to have something where she can be productive at home," said Kathleen Nygren, Statz' sister. "People can't live if they are not productive."

Looking for a possible answer by obtaining a computer system, Nygren called the headquarters of major computer companies looking for equipment that may be phased-out as systems were upgraded. She called others wondering about a possible equipment donation option. No one responded, she said.

"I just didn't know who to approach or how," Nygren said.

In the search process, Nygren used the Internet. People sent e-mail messages from locations such as Australia and Singapore. A man from England sent software programs to use.

"Pretty soon people were contacting me and asking what could be done," Nygren said. But no one was able to step forward with a computer donation plan in the area.

"I didn't realize all she'd been doing," Statz said of her sister's efforts with tears welling in her eyes.

Statz said asking for the help is extremely difficult. And people have already been generous, she said. In 1995 a benefit brunch was raised to help defray medical expenses. Nygren was quick to point out the computer search was not Statz's idea.

"With winter coming on there is a lot of isolation and it's hard to be alone," Statz said. "... I just don't want to lose contact."

ęCopyright The Brainerd Daily Dispatch 506 James Street, P.O. Box 974, Brainerd, Minnesota, U.S.A. 56401

Shortly after these articles were published, Connies' Dream of a computer was realized as local businesses stepped forward to donate the computer and internet access.