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Chelmos safe at home

SITTING IN HIS parents' Detroit lakes yard, Brook Chelmo (left) holds his daughter Aria and wife Keiko. The family recently made it out of Japan after having tried to return to the U.S. since March.

Brook Chelmo and his family are finally back home in Detroit Lakes.

"I just ran up to him, wrapped my arms around him and bawled," said Joyce Chelmo, Brook's mother, as she talked about the happy airport reunion Wednesday.

His brother, Derek, and father, Richard, were also overjoyed.

"I didn't shed tears," said Brook, "I was just in a state of shock; I couldn't believe I was finally here."

The flights home from Japan may have lasted 18 hours, but the fight to get here has been much, much longer.

The 32-year-old Detroit Lakes native has been living in Japan with his Japanese wife, Keiko, for a few years.

The couple had been trying to get Keiko a visa so they could move back to Minnesota with their daughter, Aria, when a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan in March, causing a deadly tsunami and nuclear power plant explosions.

Although they were several hours south of the disasters, their urgency to get stateside increased dramatically.

Not only did threats of additional earthquakes and radiation loom, but a lengthy power-outage could have been deadly for little Aria.

The one-and-a-half year old was born with an extremely rare congenital disease, which causes her to stop breathing when she falls asleep -- a condition she will have her entire life.

She requires an electric breathing machine to keep her lungs functioning.

But as quickly as the Chelmos were applying for a visa for Keiko, they were just as quickly being stonewalled by American embassy regulations, which were tightened up after 9-11.

The family remained in limbo, turning to Minnesota family and friends, Minnesota media and Minnesota politicians.

According to the Chelmo family, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and her staff made phone calls and pulled strings until Keiko was granted an expedited visa.

"They (Klobuchar and staff) didn't just do one thing," said Joyce Chelmo.

"They had to do a bunch of different things to get Keiko a visa."

It was anything but smooth sailing from there, though, as the Chelmos felt the full threat of the federal government shutdown in April, as well as United Airlines rejecting Aria's breathing machine.

"It was one roadblock after another," said Joyce Chelmo.

"It felt like I was never going to see them again."

But nearly three months of paperwork, phone calls, emails, doctor visits and packing has finally led the family home.

With help from local fundraisers, Brook and his ladies flew into Minneapolis Wednesday, as the entire Chelmo family met them with a whole slew of hugs and kisses.

"After I hugged Brook, I gave Keiko a big kiss and then got to hold Aria for the first time," said proud grandma Joyce.

"Brook has always told me that she smells like cookies, and now I know she really does."

And while Brook is back home, Keiko and Aria are now experiencing a little culture shock.

"At the airport Aria kept pointing at all the white people and screaming," said Brook. "She was just so excited."

Brook says he is, too, after a trip to an old, familiar American grocery store.

"I picked up root beer, pretzels ...there's a lot of food I missed being in Japan," Chelmo laughed.

Keiko Chelmo is also introducing her palate to America.

"She liked the BBQ chicken, but when she saw the bright blue kool-aid and all the sugar that went into it, she wouldn't touch it."

Brook says their plan is to schedule fun things on the weekends in order to help ease Keiko into American culture.

"That's what I did in Japan to help my culture shock, and it worked -- so next weekend we're going to a Twins game," said Chelmo, who'd been following the Minnesota team on his iPhone in Japan.

Now, Brook and his family will stay with his parents in Detroit Lakes while he looks for a job.

"I am in talks with a software company in California for a marketing manager position there," said Chelmo, "and there would be specialists for Aria there too, but we'll see."

"I don't want him to go again," said Joyce, "but if it helps him take care of his family, I guess I understand."

In the meantime, the Chelmos are busy applying for health care and soaking in some long-awaited family time.

"My heart is so wonderfully full," said Joyce Chelmo, "I haven't felt like this in a long time."

"Ya, it feels so good to be home," said Brook Chelmo.

"One of the first things I want to do is take Aria down to the beach and let her run around in the sand -- she's never seen a lake before."

Meanwhile, Keiko Chelmo says she is going to miss her family, who they lived with in Japan, but is ready to start a new life here.

"I keep telling her this is the place of the American dream," said Brook, "and it's our chance to do this --

"We're going to find what our dream is here and make it happen."