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'Lift Up Bobby': Fundraising campaign brings new awareness to Detroit Lakes man's rare disorder

The 'Lift Up Bobby' campaign has garnered some serious momentum since it began on March 1. In fact, the fundraiser for getting a lift to help Detroit Lakes school district IT technician Bob Heimark to get around town more easily is nearing its initial $5,000 goal — but there is still time to get involved.

Bob and Tami Heimark.JPG
Detroit Lakes native Bob Heimark says his wife Tami is his partner and greatest supporter in dealing with the day-to-day physical challenges presented by arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, or AMC — the rare congenital disorder that he has lived with his entire life. The couple will celebrate their 17th anniversary this summer.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune
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Arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, or AMC, is an extremely rare disorder — but it's one that Detroit Lakes native Bob Heimark has been living with all his life.

"I was born with it," he says, adding, "Everything from my knees on down was fused."

What this means, he added, is that the joints in his knees and feet were almost completely immobile. The entire right side of his body is also affected by the congenital disorder, which afflicts about one in every 3,000 people.

Even after numerous surgeries — 13 of them before he turned age 14, and several more since — Heimark's body continues to present him with daily mobility challenges.

Most recently, about two weeks ago, the 41-year-old underwent surgery to repair what his doctor called an osteochondrial lesion on his right ankle, which was causing extreme pain whenever he tried to put weight on it.

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"The doctor who did my surgery told me, 'The architecture of your feet isn't normal at all,'" Heimark said, adding that he most likely will require another surgery soon, to repair similar damage to his left ankle.

His ongoing mobility challenges cause Heimark to use a motorized scooter to traverse all but extremely short distances. Unable to get the scooter in and out of his car by himself — "I can't lift anything too heavy," he says — Heimark relies on the help of his wife, Tami, to do so.

Because he and Tami share the same vehicle for getting to and from work, he has to get up extra early to drive over to the high school, drop off the scooter in the parking lot, then take her to work at Essentia Health Oak Crossing by 6 a.m. and go back to the high school to start his day.

They have to go through the same routine, in reverse, at the end of the day — and on her days off, he still has to have her help him unload the scooter at the school, take her back home and then go to work.

One of his colleagues at Detroit Lakes High School — he has worked as an IT technician in the district for more than 20 years now — noticed one morning that Heimark's scooter was sitting outside in the school parking lot, unattended. She wasn't the only one to notice, or to ask him about it — but she was the one that decided to do something to help find a way to get him a mechanical lift for his vehicle.

That colleague, DLHS English teacher Mary Kvebak, was the instigator of a fundraising campaign called "Lift Up Bobby" — though the real impetus behind the campaign was her students.

"I asked him if it was OK if I talked to the students in my digital media and film class about it," Kvebak said. "He said yes, so I did. It was my students who came up with the name, Lift Up Bobby."

Bob and Tami with Furkids.JPG
Though they don't have children, Bob and Tami Heimark do have two "fur kids" — their cats Moe, left, and Abby, with whom they share an apartment on the north side of Detroit Lakes. The couple recently moved from a house to a first-floor apartment to make it easier for Bob to get around, due to ongoing mobility challenges related to his rare congenital disorder, arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC).
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"The name is about more than just getting him a lift," Kvebak explained. "Not only do we want to buy a lift for him, we want to lift him up emotionally and support him."

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Mission accomplished, according to Heimark: Support has been pouring in, not just from the students and staff at Detroit Lakes Public Schools, but from the community as a whole.

"The Knights (of Columbus, for whom Heimark currently serves as treasurer, and has been involved with for many years) are going to host a pancake breakfast for me on April 3," he said, adding that while the Knights do normally host a monthly breakfast, the proceeds from that one will go directly to the Lift Up Bobby campaign.

At a recent Laker girls basketball game, students from the local Interact club (a junior affiliate of Rotary International) passed around a bucket in the stands during halftime, to raise money for the campaign. By night's end, they had collected over $900.

A friend of Kvebak's, Trisha Geffre, who works for ReadySetFund.com, a student-driven online fundraising organization, helped set up a direct link for the Lift Up Bobby campaign, and the students in Kvebak's class filmed a YouTube video and Laker Live broadcast with Heimark in order to promote it.

Heimark said that it was one of his IT interns at the high school, Aiden Wass, who interviewed him for the segment, and another IT intern, Noah Hendrickson, who helped with the camera work. Another intern, Zach Olson, helped set up a social media account for the campaign as well.

He added that he was particularly touched when Wass threw in $5 toward a recent 'Lift Up Bobby' bake sale held by the 9th grade students, over and above all the effort he had put into promoting the campaign.

"One thing I've really enjoyed is seeing the kids come up with these ideas, and watching their ideas manifest," Heimark said.

Bob Tami Cats and Scooter.JPG
Though he is currently at home with his wife and cats, recovering from recent foot surgery, Bob Heimark is hoping to get back to work soon as an IT technician at Detroit Lakes High School. He has worked for the school district for more than 20 years now, and says he truly loves his job.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Working with the kids in the district is part of his job that "I absolutely love," he added.

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Tami, who got to watch the segment being filmed for Laker Live and YouTube, said it was fun to see how excited the kids were with the whole process.

"It's wonderful seeing the positive things that kids can achieve," she added.

More about AMC

Heimark says he has no problems sharing information about his condition, either with the students and staff at Detroit Lakes Public Schools or with local service organizations like Rotary, to whom he has made presentations at their regular meetings in the past.

When Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz declared AMC Awareness Day back in 2016, Heimark sat down for a feature interview with the Detroit Lakes Tribune.

One of the reasons he is asked to share that information so frequently, he added, is that AMC is incredibly rare; in fact, one of his past doctors, Dr. Brad Refsland, once said that of the more than 20,000 patients he had treated over the course of his career, Heimark was the only one who had it.
He recalls a story his mother once told him about his first trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for surgery, shortly after his birth.

"During our first meeting with the surgeon, Dr. Rudolph Klassen, he excused himself for a moment, and came back in with about 20 doctors of all ages," Heimark said. "They'd never seen a case of it (AMC) before."

He said that learning of an arthrogryposis support group called AMC Support, Inc., had been a revelation for him; the first time he went to one of the group's conventions a few years ago, in Minneapolis, he found so many people to talk to that he ended up staying longer than intended.

"By the second night, I was trying to figure out how I could stay," he said. "I never knew anyone else with AMC before, and here we were in a room full of people with varying degrees of it."

Now, he said, the members of AMCSI have become like an extended family. For more information about the group, visit amcsupport.org .

How you can help

The campaign is about two-thirds of the way toward its initial goal of $5,000, and Kvebak said that any additional funds raised will go to help with Heimark's ongoing medical expenses.

Anyone who would still like to contribute can go to the "Lift Up Bobby" page at ReadySetFund.com and follow the prompts to make a donation.

Also, proceeds from the Knights of Columbus pancake breakfast set for Sunday, April 3 at the Holy Rosary Parish Center will go toward Lift Up Bobby. Breakfast will be served from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. All are welcome.

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at vgerdes@dlnewspapers.com.
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