Stroke camp gives Blanchardville farmer a new outlook on life

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 130,000 Americans each year. A Blanchardville farmer not only beat the odds, but is still farming after a massive stroke.

Farming has always come second nature to Gary Gruenenfelder. He started working on the farm at young age and later bought a farm when he was married.

“I would go out in the morning and might not come back until the next morning,” he said.

Years later days on the farm are a bit shorter.

“The aneurysm has slowed me down,” Gruenenfelder said. “I remember turning the light switch and that’s the last thing I remember. Not only the room, my whole world went dark.”

Stroke camp gives Blanchardville farmer a new outlook on life

A grade five ruptured brain aneurysm left him in the dark for four months in 2010. Doctors put him in a medically induced coma. He spent months at UW hospital suffering a stroke and heart attack.

“They told me that 95 percent of them are dead by the time they hit the floor after a grade 5 brain aneurysm like I had. Somebody, up there must like me because they kept me around,” he said.

Gruenenfelder went through a year and a half of intense therapy and is still recovering.

“I had to relearn to feed myself, I had to learn to speak, I had speech therapy. The only thing I never had was mental therapy, that’s this. I get in a tractor and that makes me feel good about me,” he said

His tractor is now specially fitted for him with a longer ladder and handle bars to help him use his upper body strength to get into the tractor. Last year, he attended the Retreat and Refresh stroke camp, an experience that opened his mind to new opportunities.

“It gives me a different outlook on it. You can accomplish things that you want to and things you might have thought were an obstacle for you,” he explained.

The camp sponsored by UW Health gives survivors and caregivers a chance to see beyond the limitations, where they can rock climb, zip line and most importantly, heal.

Stroke camp gives Blanchardville farmer a new outlook on life

“When people have a stoke it is a crisis, it’s a whole change in who they are and what they can do and they have to learn to adapt to that,” said Christine Whelley, UW stroke camp program coordinator. “It takes a toll on the person who is a survivor and the family member and its really important that they go out and have some fun.”

Gruenenfelder has already signed up for another year at the camp, who he says has made his life better.

The camp started in 2004. Registration for this year’s camp, scheduled for Sept. 15-17, is still open.

Stroke camp gives Blanchardville farmer a new outlook on life