She had been a registered nurse in emergency rooms and ICUs for 30 years before retiring to do what she most enjoyed, creating and baking her special recipes, which included stratas, a layered breakfast casserole, with blueberries and various cheeses, as well as kisch-like fatadas.
Friends spread the word and soon Karen and her helpmate, Troy Grooms, opened the Farmers Market booth. Theirs was not an easy task. Karen, a very young-looking 55-year-old at the time, had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease three years earlier. The disease attacks individuals in different ways, with hers more aggressive than others.
Troy did the heavy lifting, including setting up the Farmers Market booth, but Karen still had the strength and mind-set to create some of the best bakery goods on the market.
Karen was never one to slow down. She had beat breast cancer in 2000 and thyroid cancer in 2007. Then in 2009, after she noticed her fingers twitching, she was diagnosed with Parkinson's. But again, with new medications that can treat those symptoms, she carried on her hectic pace.
Last year, her condition worsened and she abruptly closed the Farmers Market booth with shoppers asking where she'd gone. It turns out that she was losing weight fast, dropping 30 pounds by last August and having increased difficulty in eating and drinking.
Her daughter Kelsey said her mother was taken to the emergency room, where she learned she is suffering from Multiple System Atrophy (MSA), not Parkinson's disease. The two are very frequently mistaken since they both present many of the same symptoms. The difference is that MSA is more aggressive and tends to attack the respiratory system, which makes it difficult to breathe.
Karen is now on a ventilator to help her breathe, and for a while was given a tracheotomy and feeding tube. Through her strength and hard work, she was able to wean off the ventilator, but continues to be fed via a feeding tube and uses her tracheotomy to breathe.
Hospital costs have piled up, and although she was able to return to her Pleasanton home in December to be with her family during the holidays, a wheelchair ramp and downstairs shower had to be installed. Medical supplies and continued medication and support are costing well beyond what her family can afford.
Always an independent, active woman with two children and a grandchild she adores, MSA has stripped her of health, even her ability in recent days to talk to her family beyond a whisper.
Communicating on her tablet, she said, "Caleb is my 15-month-old grandson who I will never hold because of my tracheotomy. I'll never hold his hand and walk to the park or push him in the swing because I use a walker or wheelchair. My facial muscles and vocal cords don't allow me to interact with him, and I can't change a diaper or play patty-cake. He will never know me or remember me because of this disease, and that breaks my heart."
For those of us who know Karen and enjoyed her delicacies at the Farmers Market, it's payback time. We can help by making money donations through https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/cck3/teamkare.
Local bakeries are also raising money this month for MSA awareness, with all purchases directly helping Karen. There is also an All-in-One garage, bake and craft sale fundraiser March 29 at the Amador Valley High School parking lot. For more information, contact her daughter Kelsey Takens at 462-1889.
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