CARBONDALE — When Renee Maggert’s three boys were growing up in Carbondale, she was always eager to help with making meals for their sports teams or working concession stands.
She volunteered to help players secure scholarships and often fed them in her own home. Maggert never hesitated to support the valley’s youth.
Now the community is stepping up to help her.
Mysterious illness diagnosed
At 52, Maggert was recently diagnosed with a chronic systemic autoimmune disease called scleroderma with inflammatory myopathy. The medical condition, which has taken six months to properly diagnose, has caused pulmonary hypertension that affects her heart, lungs and muscle function.
“While I finally have a diagnosis, I don’t have the final this-is-what-you’ve-got verdict,” she said by phone from Denver on Thursday after one of hundreds of doctor appointments she has endured since September. “It’s just one of those things in life that happens.”
Maggert experienced fatigue and breathing difficulty in past years but thought it might be related to weight gain. She said at her heaviest she weighed 189 pounds.
Due to the symptoms of her disease, she is now 95 pounds.
“I have probably honestly had something going on for quite some time, since 2006,” Maggert said. “I had kind of been experiencing shortness of breath walking up the stairs or doing a hike but I thought it was because I was overweight. Hindsight can be a beautiful thing, right?”
In 2011, Maggert had experienced tiredness but at the time was obtaining a degree in counseling and considered the symptom more of an annoyance than an inhibitor to achieving her goal of helping others. Just three years prior, Maggert’s pilot husband, Barry, had died in a plane crash near Denver.
By late 2013, her condition had progressed to debilitating.
“In September I felt like I hit a wall. I went to my family physician and he sent me to a specialist in Grand Junction. I was then referred to National Jewish Institute in Denver,” she said. “On one level, I have learned we should all pay closer attention to what’s going in our own lives. On another we must be advocates for ourselves.”
Maggert said support from her Carbondale friends, and family in Texas and Colorado including her three sons Taylor and twins Bryant and Lee, has been invaluable as she copes with a disease that remained a mystery until the recent diagnosis.
“There’s a big component to my story of me not really knowing what was going on, so I didn’t know what to say to people other than I didn’t feel well,” she said. “I have lots and lots of family support, and we live in such an amazing place that all I need to do sometimes is look at [Mount] Sopris and just let it all go. I’ve learned to live in the moment and be wonderful.”
Maggert said her sons Taylor and Lee, who live in Boulder, have been by her side on the Front Range by taking her to doctor appointments as she has undergone a deluge of tests. She said her son Bryant, a teacher who lives in Basalt, has helped her with the often-overwhelming task of paperwork in securing medical assistance since she is unable to work or live alone.
“I’m overcome by the beauty of it all, because people have been so loving and heart-felt in their actions,” Maggert said. “It has really made me more present and grateful.”
A little help from her friends
Since her disease has caused choking and vision impairment issues, Maggert cannot drive or live alone. She has since moved in with friends Mary and Scott Williams, who are helping plan today’s sweetheart dance benefit in Carbondale for her. The group of volunteers planning the fundraiser to help Maggert with medical bills and living expenses includes longtime friends Kim Velasquez, Lynn Jammaron, Mary Williams, Mary Beth Joiner and Erin Bassett.
“Renee is loved by everyone who knows her. All of our kids grew up with her three boys, and many of us spent a lot of time making meals for the sporting teams and working concession stands together,” Velasquez said. “But it was Renee that the coaches and teachers called when they needed someone to get the job done. Renee and Barry’s house was the hangout for all of the kids in town. The kids absolutely adore her — there’s a huge number of them coming to the benefit.”
Velasquez said there has been an outpouring of support from the community with donations for food, silent auction items and requests to help with event.
“This is such a testament to how loved and respected Renee is in our valley,” she said. “We decided we needed to help her in any way that we could. Mary Williams is Renee’s angel. She and her husband have taken her into their home and have taken care of all of her needs. They are truly amazing people.”
Maggert’s sister Kay Grace, of Dallas, Texas, was with her sibling as they returned to Denver on Thursday for a doctor’s appointment. Grace said she is thankful for the valley’s support as her younger sister receives medical care and support.
“She’s my baby,” Grace said. “This has been one of due diligence to not stop at trying to find the right team to help her out. I just think this is such an incredible community story.”