Clark Stertz:Triumph Over Disability

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Serving the Needs of Nebraska's Farm and Ranch Families Affected by Disabilities.

Nebraska Farmer, October 1998
By Don McCabe

StertzAn illness can cause a disability, zapping the body's strength day by day over several years, as it did to Clark Stertz of Edgar. Stertz, now 43, has been a diabetic since he was 20, struggling with the effects of a debilitating disease that necessitated eye surgery, kidney dialysis, and just a year ago, kidney and pancreas transplants.

You and I can only imagine the trauma and frustration of coping with a physical disability.

But coping with a disability while staying on the farm, even with changes in the operation, is a monumental endeavor. Stertz is one Nebraska farmer persevering today in that endeavor. He does so, first of all, because of sheer tenacity and resolve. Yet, there's another factor. Clark and his family benefited from the assistance of Nebraska AgrAbility.

Stertz, through his own experiences, can best describe the assistance provided through AgrAbility. Clark and Deb Stertz, sitting in their small, comfortable Edgar home on a hot June afternoon, sigh as they recall Clark's struggles with his diabetes and their fight to continue farming. It hasn't been easy, even though Clark is slowly but surely recovering from a kidney and pancreas transplant a year ago. He hasn't regained full strength, but proudly says of the effect of the new pancreas, "I no longer am a diabetic." Deb echoes his enthusiasm. "It's a miracle."

Yet, some harm to his health can't be undone from a disease that began when he was 20. "Diabetes attacks every organ in your body," he says. And the couple is still dealing with the damage to their farm financial health after going through a restructuring. In the early 1990s, Clark began having complications from the diabetes. He needed surgery to stop hemorrhaging in both eyes and to reattach a retina in one eye. One local eye specialist suggested he'd eventually go blind and that he ought to quit farming. He and Deb reluctantly decided to sell the machinery, except for a loader tractor, they used in their 700-acre corn and soybean farm. He kept a small cowherd, but also sold their hogs "because they were too much work." They also sold a new home and acreage and moved into Edgar. Yet, since Clark's heart remained in agriculture, they purchased a swather and baler to start a custom operation, securing financing from the equipment manufacturer. "Clark really enjoys farming," Deb says. "It's his way of relaxing."

The next step in their saga is when the family physician urged that Clark and Deb travel to Omaha and meet with a specialist who altered the frequency of Clark's insulin intake. He began to feel better, gained weight, and went on managing his small cowherd and building the custom swathing and baling operation. Despite temporarily feeling better, Clark learned his kidneys were deteriorating. Eventually, he went on dialysis and was placed on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. That operation occurred about a year ago, and turned out to be a double transplant - kidneys and pancreas.

Through their ordeal, the couple was "pressured by their lenders to sell their farmland," Deb says. "They (lenders) thought Clark would not be able to run the farm." They then sold the cropland to Clark's father. The Clay County Cooperative Extension Office told Koehler about the couple and their problems. Koehler lined up assistance from Roger Selley, University of Nebraska ag economist in Clay Center, to help the Stertzes develop a plan of projected costs and returns for the custom operation. Voc Rehab provided money for a private financial consultant to continue with additional financial planning. Koehler also helped Clark and Deb research lending options and gather information about their credit needs. She also helped Voc Rehab better understand the couple's situation and "the language of ag lending." Speaking of Koehler, Deb says, "We sort of pinch ourselves that she came along to help. There has to be somebody out there that can help farmers to address financial problems when they have to deal with a disability. AgrAbility gave us the hand no one else would. I have more hope now."

Nebraska AgrAbility is a joint effort of the University of Nebraska Extension and Easter Seals Nebraska. This material is based upon the work supported by the Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under special project number #2006-41590-03461.

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