Our community always seems to step up when someone needs help. And this weekend will be no different when hundreds of people come together to help an Onalaska police officer and his family. They've been through more heartache in one year than many will experience in a lifetime.
When Onalaska Police Officer Dan McCluskey hits the streets, he never knows what he'll run into. He says, "I see a lot at work." As a 21 year veteran, he's seen just about everything on the job, but nothing could've prepared him for the call he's had to answer at home. "It's the worst year of my life."
Dan and his wife Megan are the proud parents of 14 year old Aidan, a freshman at G-E-T high school. "He was 5 weeks and it just happened suddenly. His bowels twisted off completely one day and he went into shock and then had the heart attack as a result of the prolonged shock and stuff that he was in and so his kidney's shut down and failed," said Megan.
Doctors thought Aidan's kidneys would repair themselves, but it never happened. Megan said, "They told us then that his function was really only about 15% at that point. We always knew and they prepared us for puberty is when they said his kidneys would probably fail again or he'll outgrow them."
A kidney transplant was planned for this past summer and Megan was ready to be the donor. "It's your kid. I don't know anybody that would give it a second thought, you'd do anything for your kids," said Dan.
But in April, life for the McCluskey family would take a turn down a road no one wants to travel. Megan said, "When I drove myself to the appointment that day, I just knew that something, that my life was going to change."
Megan was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and it had spread into her lymph nodes. "Even now, it's still hard that it really hasn't sunk in," said Megan. "Shock and disbelief and I knew what we had coming up playing for Aidan, you know, and then I was obviously concerned about Megan's health at that time, I was pretty overwhelmed I guess," said Dan.
As Megan began the fight of her life, she was no longer able to give the gift of life to her only child. "One of the first things I thought of, I'm not going to be able to be a donor anymore. And that was the saddest part for me."
She immediately began chemotherapy treatments facing the cancer head-on. Aidan's transplant was put on hold.
Dan said, "I said, I don't think it can get any worse at this point and a couple of months later, I was proven wrong. It could and it did."
This family's strength was tested yet again on July 29th, the last day of Megan's second round of treatment. Dan said, "we had gotten home that afternoon. We just had eaten dinner and she was laying on the couch and Aidan went downstairs to play video games or watch TV. Short while later he came running upstairs. He saw the smoke and he started yelling the house is on fire."
Within a matter of a few hours, nearly everything they had worked their entire life for was gone. Megan said, "I knew in a couple of days, I was going to be really sick from the treatment I just had and I had no place to go so that to me was a lot harder than hearing I have cancer."
"When we left that night, I didn't have shoes on, Aidan didn't have any clothes, other than what he had on, same for Megan and you just, it's a helpless feeling to just stand there and watch everything go up like that," said Dan.
But there's one thing the fire couldn't take from them. "Everything that's taken away from you, you realize you really didn't need, what you really need is each other," said Megan.
And now for a man who's dedicated his life to helping others in their time of need, the tables are turned. Dan said, "we always try to help other people and that's why a lot of people just said let the people help you out now, but it was very hard for me to do."
"It's just incredible, everywhere we go, people come up to us and either give us something, either give us words of encouragement, they've seen our story in places," said Megan.
Dan said, "it's overwhelming, it's rather humbling."
Life will never be the same for the McCluskey's, but having the support of an entire community of family, friends and even strangers, they know they'll be able to overcome whatever comes their way.
"One of the first things I told Megan when she realized she had cancer, I gave her a hug and said it's going to be OK, we're going to get through it and that's kind of how we thought of it all along," said Dan.
Megan just had surgery a few weeks ago. Doctors think they removed all of the cancer, but she'll continue treatments.
Aidan's transplant is now being planned for next Summer and the plan is for Dan to now be the donor. They're also planning to rebuild their home this spring on the same property.
A benefit is planned for this Saturday, Nov. 2nd from 3:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. at the Holmen American Legion. The family event will include a raffle, as well as silent, live and pie auctions. And Cash prizes of up to 500 dollars will be awarded.
The McCluskey's were very reluctant to agree to a benefit at first. "We discussed it and it was more for thinking about Aidan's health issue, because I didn't know prior to the transplant that they only last about 15 years and he'll need another one and insurance says they'll only cover one," said Dan.
"If it was just me or if it was just the house fire or if it was just Aidan, we would've just said 'no,' but it was kind of a lot to happen at once. One of Dan's co-workers said it best and she said, people want to help you, they want to feel better about themselves too so that kind of made it easier," said Megan.
If you can't make it to the benefit, you can make a donation here: McCluskey Fund, c/o Bank of Galesville in Trempealeau, WI 54661.