Friends rally to help paralyzed EL guidance counselor

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TURNER — One day Heidi Conn, a guidance counselor at Edward Little High School, was a fit, outdoors enthusiast.

The next day Conn, 55, found herself in a hospital bed, paralyzed from the chest down.

On March 24, Conn went to the emergency room with a bad headache. Soon, she was whisked away by helicopter to a neurosurgeon. Doctors later told her bleeding in her spinal column, caused by her heart medication Coumadin, resulted in damage to her spinal cord, said close friend Candy Gleason, an EL teacher.

“She’s my ski buddy,” Gleason said. “We used to go to the gym together.”

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Bleeding caused by the blood-thinning drug is common, but bleeding in the spinal column is not, Gleason said.

Conn lives in Turner, has two grown children and is married to Doug Conn, the athletic director at Leavitt Area High School in Turner. After undergoing intense physical therapy in Boston, she returned home Thursday.

As Conn adjusts to life without the use of her legs, family and friends are organizing fundraisers. The largest will be two gala magic shows at Leavitt Area High School at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, May 21.

Even with health insurance, some expensive needs are not covered, including a wheelchair-accessible van and modifications to her home. A “standing frame” cost $3,000.

“It stands your body up. I use it an hour a day,” said Monica Quimby, who was paralyzed five years ago in a skiing accident. “It’s good for the circulation, digestion, bone density. Bodies weren’t made to sit all day.”

Quimby has become one of Conn’s supporters.

“I’m the other paralyzed person from Turner,” Quimby said. “There are adjustments we have to make. It’s a loss. Losing your legs is definitely sad.” But Conn has a lot going for her, Quimby said. In addition to her positive attitude, Conn has physical strength.

“If you have athletic ability, you’re able to recover a lot quicker,” Quimby said. “She’ll get back into the things she likes with the use of adaptive equipment. She’ll ski again. They have wheelchairs that go through the woods. Then there’s other cool stuff that doesn’t change. Kayaking, canoeing, those things are the same.”

On her Facebook page, “Heidi Help,” Conn has updated her progress, shared her sadness, optimism and appreciation.

“Spiritually I drift from a great place to a sad place,” she wrote May 2. “I still struggle with wanting to turn back time, resentments, and acceptance. Now with that said, I hope to keep turning over my concerns to God and getting on with my life, knowing that this too shall pass.”

She misses her independence. She has asked: “What is my gift at this stage in my life? Is my gift learning humility, connecting with others, to be a better person? This gift will be revealed to me in time.”

On May 11 she wrote, “Many things are happening for me to be independent, a ramp into my house, doors wide enough for me to use, bathroom accessibility, bedroom downstairs, getting in and out of wheelchair without assistance. To all who helped, I am forever grateful.”

An outpouring of support has come from Edward Little. “People have opened their wallets,” Gleason said. “We’ve raised close to $3,000.”

There was a pay-$1-to-wear-jeans day, a silent auction, and there’ll be raffles at each of Saturday’s magic show. “Heidi Believe” bracelets have been sold. “The students are wearing them. You’ll see truckers at American Concrete wearing them,” Gleason said.

Conn is making plans to swim this summer and to ski this winter, with assistance, Gleason said. “She’s always thinking, ‘What’s the next step?’”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

TURNER — A benefit magic show, “The Magic of Lyn,” will be held at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at Leavitt Area High School to benefit Heidi Conn of Turner, who recently became paralyzed.

Award-winning illusionist Lyn Dillies, a cousin of Heidi’s husband, Doug Conn, will donate her time for the two shows.

Dillies has shared the stage with such entertainers as Marvin Hamlisch, Jeff Dunham, Bill Engval, Crystal Gayle and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Dillies became the first illusionist to make two Asian elephants appear in succession. In 2009 she received the prestigious Merlin award from the International Magician’s society for Female Illusionist of the Year.

Tickets are $10, and will be available at the door, at Leavitt Area High School, Edward Little High School, Schrep’s corner store in Turner and Play It Again in Auburn. For more information, call Leavitt at 225-3533, or Edward Little at  333-6660.

For more about Lynn Dillies: http://www.magicoflyn.com

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