Secondary Story

Survived to Thrive

By Dorothy Bliskey

Denise Olson thought she was going for a regular eye exam. Instead, her ophthalmologist and other medical experts discovered a brain aneurysm behind her right eye. The prognosis was not promising.

“I was told that if I didn’t have surgery, I could lose my sight in the right eye, stroke on the left side, or more likely die if the aneurysm popped,” Denise said, adding hers was a very large aneurysm. “Statistics of brain aneurysms are bleak,” she said. “Fifty percent of all who have them die right away, and only five percent go back to a normal life.”

Five years have passed, and she has proven to be a miraculous survivor who has recovered well. In fact, Denise, at 52, is an “energy bunny” who is a very kind and giving person.

Married to a minister who joins her on mission trips, Denise, a licensed practical nurse, also keeps busy with five part-time jobs. Some are in the medical field. Others are in the fitness/teaching area where she helps many people succeed.

As an LPN, Denise works as an independent nurse for two families but has worked for as many as five over the years. “Both families have adult children who are dependent on life-saving ventilators to breathe,” Denise explained, noting she’s cared for them since they were children. “They are like family to me, and I love them very much.”

Denise is also very physically active. She works as a personal trainer at Anytime Fitness in Horicon and at Get Fit in Beaver Dam where she is also a fitness instructor. At Great Kids Tutoring Center, she tutors children in academics. As a teacher and participant of Martial Arts, Denise shows others the skill of the sport. She also plans to earn her Black Belt degree this fall. On top of all that, she cleans homes and businesses.

Volunteering and getting involved for a cause illustrates Denise’s giving nature. Monthly she helps an elderly friend by cutting his nails, cooking meals for him and cleaning his house – all on a volunteer basis. She volunteers her nursing expertise at free health camps for the less fortunate and has traveled to India, South America and Columbia on missions trips.

Together, she and her husband Ray Olson have a blended family of five adult children and 19 grandchildren. The two were married 16 years ago after their spouses died. “My first husband committed suicide,” Denise said. “It was the worst time of my life.”

She credits Ray, their faith, family, and friends for helping her get through her life-threatening health crisis in 2011. “I had a huge support group and was being prayed for all over the world – from Africa and Australia to Great Britain and India,” Denise said. “But my biggest thanks for healing and helping is God Himself.”

Looking back, her reaction to the news she had a brain aneurysm jolted Denise. “I was in shock. I went to the eye doctor thinking I needed glasses, and it turned out I was fighting for my life.”

“The doctor said my eyes were fine but there was something more ‘sinister’ going on,” Denise recalls. “After an MRI exam the next day, a mass was discovered.”

Denise was referred to a neurologist in Madison where she underwent surgery. “They harvested an artery from my left arm and bypassed the aneurysm,” she explained, noting the recovery was, at first, painful, but she healed faster than most. “Things turned around when Ray brought me a recorded New Testament Bible. When he pushed ‘play’ and the Bible was being read, I could feel my healing taking place.”

Nowadays, Denise is living life to the fullest. Her interests and aspirations are many. “I love to dance, spend time with my grandbabies, adore the outdoors, and enjoy taking long walks with my dog. But praying is one of the best highs.”

When asked what her ‘dream vacation’ might be, she listed several. Some illustrate her giving nature. “I’d love to go to a dude ranch and ride horses all day, walk the beaches in Ireland, go for a walkabout in Australia, do nursing at a medical camp in Africa and help out in an orphanage – all of those with equal desire.”

“I hope my story will encourage others who are going through similar life struggles,” Denise concludes. “I am very blessed.”