Finding Thanks in the Pain: Jacksonport parade will benefit Lasnoski family

On April 14, 2022, Stephanie Lasnoski set out to clean the chicken coop on her property in Baileys Harbor. It’s a dirty job, not a dangerous one, but as she used a pitchfork to lift up the bedding, Lasnoski felt a sudden pain in her neck. 

“It felt like I had been struck by lightning,” she said. 

Her life hasn’t been the same since. That bolt of pain left her unable to feel or use her left arm.

The next day she went to the emergency room and learned that her C3, C4 and C5 vertebrae were flattening her spinal cord. She went in for a procedure to fix the problem, but came out unable to feel her arms or legs, and without the ability to control her bowel movements and bladder. 

“What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had taken a vaccine that doctors at the Mayo clinic later said may have supercharged any autoimmune diseases I had lurking in the background,” she said. “One of those autoimmune diseases is ankylosing spondylitis. That, along with my severe degenerative disc disease, brought on a perfect storm of complications that resulted in my paralysis.”

She’s now paralyzed from the chest down, with limited use of her arms and hands. 

Just a few years before her injury, Lasnoski had returned home to become the director of nursing at Good Samaritan Scandia Village in Sister Bay. She had first worked at Scandia as a candy striper at age 13, when she was a student at Gibraltar School. 

“I worked there all through college and just fell in love with that facility,” Lasnoski said. “Kathy Wagner was the director of nursing then and she was my hero and I always wanted to become a nurse like her, a professional, and as a director of nursing.”

Lasnoski began her career in nursing at the Pepin Heart Institute in Tampa, Florida, then moved to a regional hospital in Nebraska before she got the opportunity to move home to Door County with her husband and six children.

Stephani Lasnoski (right) and her husband, Michael, in easier times. Photo submitted.

“We were having an absolutely amazing time at Scandia Village until the day I left,” she said. On Feb. 5, 2022, her ankylosing spondylitis had progressed to the point that she had to quit the job she loved, a job that was the primary income source for her family as well. 

On the plus side, that meant more time home with her kids and the homestead her family rents, where they raise goats, chickens, ducks and turkeys. But two months later, Lasnoski was wheelchair-bound. Despite that, and the laundry list of ailments she’s battling, she remains startlingly positive and grateful, leaning on her immense faith.

“God has been with us through every step of this journey,” she said. “My perseverance comes from God.”

At Christmas last year, a friend sent a large check to get gifts for her kids and help with bills. Kindnesses like that have humbled her. 

“It is such a privilege to live here,” Lasnoski said. “This community means so much to me. To feel the amount of love, concern and care is just astounding. It’s so humbling and so much feels like a miracle. It’s very hard to process.”

She said the condition has been a gift even if at many times it’s been so hard, including months spent in the hospital and entire weeks where her pain levels were at a 10. 

“My kids have been amazing, I’ve seen another part of them in this,” she said. “I started crying one day as my daughter was helping me into bed because she had to take care of me. She just held my hand and said, ‘Why are you crying? We love you, and you have done so much for us. Now we get the chance to take care of you.’”

On Nov. 23 at the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Jacksonport, the community will pitch in as well. Each year, parade organizers choose a local resident as the beneficiary of the parade with funds collected along the route. For Lasnoski, the funds will help her pay for treatments she wants to pursue in hopes of not only easing her pain, but walking again. She has been told the best outcome might be to take steps with a walker or for a very short distance. 

“I think they’re wrong,” she said. “I think the mind can do a lot more.”

In her journey to get there, Lasnoski said her family is witnessing the best of the community they call home. 

“Our family has been able to experience miracles and see the most beautiful side of this county,” she said. “We have seen firsthand the true golden heart of this community. For that we are thankful.”