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Cooking is where we learn the goodness caring for others brings to life—Cooking is where we find our humanity. Cook.

We've been working on a series of ACA stories that we have been saving for the opening of our Janesville, Wisconsin store May 19. With Thursday's vote in the House of Representatives, it seems waiting to share these stories no longer makes sense. Janesville is the seat of the first congressional district here in our home state of Wisconsin that is responsible for electing the current Speaker of the House of the US House of Representatives. Our fellow Wisconsinites have elected him because they believe him to be a good and decent man. As part of our continuing Cooks Vote Project, we are opening our Janesville store as America's store, our prototype Penzeys of the future.

A big part of why we are opening in Janesville is working to help the Speaker be the good and decent man the voters of Janesville elected him to be. And to be a daily reminder to the voters there that good and decent people are people like themselves, people who share the gifts life has given them to help not hurt those in need. We think our ongoing ACA stories and recipes are the right place to start.

Kristen's Story

Their love affair began over 30 years ago with an afternoon of cookie baking. “We were both living in Boston. It was our first ‘unofficial’ date,” says Doug Shelton, as he recalls so many happy memories. Now Doug and his wife, Kristen Moore, call the small, friendly town of Silver City, New Mexico, home.

Since 1981, when Kristen was awarded the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International, she has devoted herself to the care of young children. Kristen had wanted to study law since she was a little girl, but after working as a nursing assistant during college, she switched schools and went into nursing. “As usual, she chose kindness,” says husband, Doug.

Kristen started her career in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at St. Paul Children’s Hospital in Minnesota. Always wanting to make the world a better place by doing all she could to help others, a new challenge presented itself to Kristen when she became the charge nurse in a newly created Mobile Medical Unit which provided services throughout the hospital.

Kristen’s experiences, along with her deep-seeded need to always provide her patients with the best of care, soon presented her with the option to work with the emergency room team at St. Paul.

In 1994, after earning her Master’s Degree, she took on the challenge of Pediatric Nurse Practitioner where she would work with her favorite patients, the children.

During this time the Midwest Children’s Resource Center was established. MCRC set the standard for child abuse investigation within the entire region. Kristen was instrumental in expanding their mission, forming a 24/7 response to child abuse crises in the hospital.

Doug tells us, “Kristen later joined MCRC and spent several years conducting over 700 forensic child abuse investigations, saving helpless children from their worst nightmares. When this horror became too much to bear, she returned to work in primary care, as a Nurse Practitioner.

“Several years later we moved to Arizona where Kristen joined the Children’s Medical Center of Tucson, a clinic dedicated to helping pediatric patients, many on assistance. For a few of these 14 years, she returned to the Pediatric Emergency Room of Tucson.

“Throughout her career, Kristen has been considered to be the very best by her colleagues, her patients and their parents,” says Doug.

As important and rewarding as Kristen’s career was to her, so was cooking. Both Kristen and Doug loved to cook. Really cook. “We both grew up helping in our kitchens as children. We’ve traveled around the country and the world, eating our way through the places we’ve had the pleasure of visiting. Then we’d go home and figure out how to cook it in our own kitchen.

“We’ve always liked to cook together. We’ve hosted innumerable dinner parties and considered those times to be among the most enjoyable of our lives,” Doug smiles.

It was 2011 when Kristen began to notice she was having trouble functioning at her job. Kristen, always trying to be super-competent, tended to conceal and compensate for her difficulties, making it hard to see there was a problem.

Eventually her memory loss progressed to a point where it became obvious something was seriously wrong and by the middle of the following year, Kristen was unable to keep working. She was 54 years old.

It wasn’t until years later that her illness was diagnosed as unspecified, early-onset dementia with cerebellar ataxia, which gives her the balance problems. Nobody really knows what causes the cognitive problems or what to do about it. At this point, her treatment is pretty much trial and error.

Doug says, “Kristen has devoted her entire life to helping others and now, because of her illness, she lost her career, her income, and her health insurance.”

Together Doug and Kristen tried to obtain Medicaid coverage while living in Arizona. He says, “Although we undoubtedly qualified, Arizona stretched out the application process for nearly a year and made us go to two arbitration hearings only to find that this coverage really didn’t do much for us.

“It seemed every step was deliberately designed to be maximally inconvenient, demeaning and punitive. Our savings were gone. We lost our home. It was this attitude that contributed to us leaving the state of Arizona.”

In New Mexico, where Doug feels the state takes these services more serious, Kristen found the care she needed. With the enactment of the ACA, Medicaid had been expanded to cover funding to millions and it was finally available to Kristen. At last, she met with a neurologist and received her diagnosis.

But now, with the repeal of the ACA, Doug wonders if Medicaid will continue to be available to them.

“Things have taken a downturn for her in the last nine months,” Doug says. “I am pretty much responsible for her and for keeping our lives running.

“To say it has been difficult is an understatement. Kristen used to be the smartest and most competent person I’ve ever known and now she can’t go grocery shopping or remember how to answer her phone.

“She can remember just about everything from the past, but her brain has problems forming new memories. She used to love books and movies, but now 30 minutes or 30 pages into something, she forgets, becomes lost and then frustrated.

“Kristen enjoys emailing and talking to old friends. It’s unfortunate that none of them live here. We’re making friends, but we are still the new kids on the block,” says Doug.

“One good thing, Kristen still loves to eat. And she still loves being in the kitchen helping with simple prep work. She can make basics like a sandwich or a smoothie, but can no longer do things that have multiple steps, like her favorite Indian food. She can’t plan the steps in her head.

“We used to be avid hikers, but her balance issues have more or less restricted us to walking on flat ground. 25 years ago, we traversed the saddle of the Tongariro Volcano in New Zealand in violent winds and today we walk downtown to the co-op or our favorite Mexican diner.

“Kristen’s favorite activity is gardening. She’ll spend hours out there every day. It’s satisfying work and doesn’t require much memory.”

Many of Kristen’s patients and their parents were truly devoted to her. One patient stands out in Kristen’s mind. She remembers Kameah, a 4-year-old who suffered with recurrent fevers. Kristen was the one who saw something was amiss and referred her to the specialist who found a cancer, which thankfully was caught early enough that she survived.

As a thank-you gift, Kameah gave Kristen a rock, saying to her, “I picked out the best one for you, Kristen.” With the arrival of a family Christmas card every year, Kristen watched Kameah grow into a healthy, athletic, young woman. Kristen was invited to her high school graduation and to this day, still has the rock!

“To a great extent, Kristen has had a wonderful life,” Doug says. “She has helped thousands of people, not for the big bucks, but because it gave her life meaning; to make the world a better place, as she would say.

“I believe that these people would want to help her, just as she helped them, but it seems their government does not. It seems the government wants to punish her for being so stupid to have spent her life pursuing something other than wealth.

“Yes, a bright spot in our journey has been the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA. It has been the only way we have been able to obtain healthcare. But if we lose Medicaid, there will be no treatment options for Kristen. She will be directly harmed, and this person, who gave so much of herself to others, will end her life forgotten and discarded from the world she spent her life trying to help, for want of a little help in return, in her time of need.”

***************

Is this the best way we can make our country great? Should all Americans without wealth simply be disposable? We are better than the act the Republican Congress just committed. We really are.

Kristen's recipes:

Lamb meatballs stuffed with dried cherries

Chicken in spinach mustard sauce

Raita

Wonkette thanks our friends at Penzeys for sharing this story. We hope you dig them as much as we do.

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