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Getting by, with a little help: Friends rally to help DL family struck by tragedy

With Christmas Day now just a little over a week away, the signs of holiday cheer are everywhere. Smiling Santas, frolicking reindeer, nativity scenes -- some of them even using live actors -- and brightly lit Christmas trees can be seen decorating almost every lawn and windowsill.

But there is one Detroit Lakes home where the inhabitants don't have much reason to celebrate the holidays this year.

Greg Olson, his daughter Kendra and granddaughter Khiera had to prepare for a funeral. Greg will be spending this Christmas, and many Christmases thereafter, without his wife by his side.

Kendra and her six siblings (who no longer live at home) are suddenly left without a mother, while Kheira and the Olsons' 11 other grandchildren will grow up not knowing their grandmother.

Mona Olson died unexpectedly on Dec. 2 -- and the cause seems improbable at best.

"She died of a broken leg," says Greg.

Specifically, Mona died from a blood clot that had formed at the site of the break in her leg, right above her ankle. The blood clot moved through her body to her lungs, and blocked the flow of blood to her brain.

Mona, Kendra and Khiera had temporarily moved up to Kasilof, Alaska, so Mona could find a better-paying job and bring home more money for their family. (Their other daughter, Jennifer, was already living there.)

"She found a job doing home health care for the disabled," Greg says. "She was doing pretty good up there."

And then, disaster struck. Mona slipped on some snow right before Thanksgiving, and broke her leg. Once the swelling went down, the doctors put a hard cast on the leg, and it appeared to be healing well enough after a few weeks to remove the cast.

But Mona was still having trouble. She was hospitalized twice, complaining of pains in her chest.

"They told her it was kidney stones or something," Greg says. "She went to the doctor that Wednesday (Nov. 28), and they said everything was all right.

"I talked to her Saturday night (Dec. 1), and she seemed fine. Then, I got a phone call."

The owner of the place where Mona and the girls had been staying, Alaska Riverview Lodge, was calling to say that they had to rush Mona to the hospital.

"The hospital called me twice," Greg says. "The doctors kept saying, 'There's nothing we can do.'"

They wanted Olson to make the call on when to stop resuscitation; by this time, there was no brain activity.

"They kept asking me if I wanted them to stop (trying to revive her), " Greg says. "I said no.

"I just couldn't understand why a broken leg would do this."

Mona Olson was pronounced dead on Dec. 2, 2007; she was 55 years old.

Since then, the family has been struggling not only to cope with a devastating loss, but to pay the bills.

Thankfully, they have friends who have stepped forward to help.

"They've been helping us with the costs, doing everything for us," Greg says. "Whatever we needed, they've done it."

Greg's boss at Nelson Services in Thief River Falls has been very understanding. "He told me to take as much time as I need," Greg says. "But the bills don't stop.

"We just don't know what we're going to do."

But once again, their friends have stepped forward.

"All of these friends of Kendra's, as soon as they found out, they were over here," Greg says. "They told me they'd help... and they have... they just keep on giving."

And help they did. Lisa Foster, the mother of Kendra's close friend Jessica, helped organize a fund-raising effort, putting collection cans around town and setting up a donation account at Bremer Bank.

Jessica's aunt, Merry Lee Linden, even loaned them the money to bring Mona's body home from Alaska.

"We just never expected anything like this," Greg says.

Mona Olson's funeral is set for 1 p.m. Monday, Dec. 17, at West-Kjos Funeral Home in Detroit Lakes.

Contributions in her memory can be made at Bremer Bank in Detroit Lakes. All monies collected will help pay for funeral costs, travel expenses, flowers and services. For more information, contact Lisa Foster at 218-849-8806.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454