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Lucky man: Police officer recovers from rare brain ailment


Aaron Ellis could have died last March after a brain hemorrhage, his doctor said.

But something remarkable happened instead. His aunt, Mary Murray, calls it a miracle and an answer to prayer.

Ellis just says he’s a lucky man.

The story started one day in December 2018. Ellis, a sergeant at the Janesville Police Department, was at his regular morning meeting when he lost his peripheral vision. He could see only straight ahead.

Anthony Wahl 

Aaron Ellis, a sergeant at the Janesville Police Department, smiles as he watches a play unfold while keeping score for the fundraising Cops and Hoses hockey game at the Janesville Ice Arena on Saturday. Ellis has been recovering from a condition called moyamoya, a narrowing of the main arteries to the brain, which puts a person at risk for stroke.

He didn’t tell anyone. He decided to get it looked at. He drove to SSM St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville.

He shouldn’t have done that, he says sheepishly.

Hospital staff put him in a wheelchair and rushed him to the ER. Doctors said he was having a stroke. His vision cleared up, and he was released after a few days with an appointment to see neurosurgeon Christopher Baggott at the SSM hospital in Madison.

Baggott soon figured out Ellis had a rare condition called moyamoya.

Moyamoya is most commonly seen in Japanese children, much less so in other populations, Baggott said.

“It’s really a mystery as to why something like this occurs,” Baggott said.

The Mayo Clinic website says moyamoya appears most frequently in far-eastern countries, among young girls, and among people who have conditions that include neurofibromatosis type 1 and sickle cell anemia. Ellis, 44, is in none of those categories.

Baggott said the chances of getting moyamoya are about one in several hundred thousand.

Moyamoya is a narrowing of the main arteries to the brain, which puts a person at risk for stroke.

Baggott recommended surgery to increase blood flow.

The surgery was set for March. Ellis was on the table for about five hours.

Baggott cut into Ellis’ skull and rerouted blood vessels, attaching them to his brain. He was released from the hospital three days later.

Submitted photo 

Aaron Ellis shows off his surgical scars after his first surgery for a rare brain condition last March.

“I felt so good,” Ellis recalled.

As his wife, Catherine, was driving him home, he asked her to stop at St. John Vianney School, where officers were doing active-shooter training. Ellis’ job includes scheduled training sessions.

“I said, can we stop at St. John’s and say ‘hi’ to my buddies?”

He kept his hat on, he said, so no one would see the fresh scars.

His wife was running some errands that night. Aaron was home with his daughter and mother, and then they left.

“And that’s when I had a terrible stroke.”

He fell to the floor. “It was just me and the dogs.”

He couldn’t get up, couldn’t speak.

Catherine figures she came home about 30 minutes after her mother-in-law and daughter left. She heard a noise like nothing she had ever heard. It was Aaron, trying to communicate. She found him on the floor.

Janesville paramedics took him to Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center. He was soon transferred to St. Mary’s in Madison.

There’s always a danger that blood vessels rerouted to supply the brain will not be able to handle their new task right away, and that’s what happened to Ellis, Baggott said. The condition is called reperfusion injury.

Catherine said she was told it was a brain bleed that was much like a stroke.

“Dr. Baggott was there in tears right along with me. It was very scary,” Catherine said.

“He was in a dangerous situation,” Baggott said. “I thought if we could get him through that reperfusion injury alive, then he would be able to bounce back.”

Five days later, Ellis was still unable to speak. He couldn’t move much. But he knew what was going on around him. He was watching a Brewers-Cubs baseball game with his father at the hospital.

The Cubs scored.

Ellis is a big Brewers fan and despises the Cubs. He was upset, even though it was just a spring-training game. He raised his arm, shaking it in anger at the TV.

“Dad started screaming, ‘Your arm! Your arm!’ because they told me they didn’t think this right hand would ever work again. So my dad started yelling to the nurses: ‘Something’s going on!’

“And my dad helped me, and I hurt, but I was able to stand on both my legs.”

It was an emotional moment.

He was transferred to the Rehabilitation Hospital of Wisconsin in Waukesha for 20 days of therapy.

“Every day I was getting better and better,” he said.

On the 17th day in Waukesha, he started running during what was supposed to be walking therapy.

“They sent me home before 20 days, and I was so happy,” he said, chuckling.

Ellis, always an amiable person, seems overjoyed these days as he thinks about what has happened. He said he is more excited about life.

“I am totally different. … Sometimes I think, ‘Am I really alive? Am I really here?’”

“I think the change is just hope and a new love for and outlook on life, learning to appreciate what we have,” Catherine said.

Ellis went back to work in part time in June, full time in July.

He told Chief Dave Moore he wasn’t ready to drive a patrol car yet, but “I just wanted to be back,” he said.

Angela Major 

Janesville police Sgt. Aaron Ellis grills hot dogs and brats during a police department neighborhood cookout on June 20, 2019. This was his first day back to work after treatment for moyamoya, a rare condition that causes a narrowing of the main arteries to the brain, which puts a person at risk for stroke.

His first day back, police were holding a block party, something he has worked on for years. He asked to help out, and he was soon grilling and dishing out hot dogs to kids.

Meanwhile, Baggott scheduled a second surgery for November, a similar but less complicated procedure to increase blood flow on the other side of Ellis’ head. He recovered quickly the second time.

“He did progress rapidly, and I think that shows his resilience and willingness to participate in rehabilitation,” Baggott said. “It shows the strength of his character.”

Ellis has recovered faster than the professionals said he would, Catherine said.

Submitted photo 

Aaron Ellis sits in his hospital bed surrounded by family in November, before his second surgery for a rare brain condition. Left to right are son Tyler, wife Catherine and daughter Caylee.

“He’s a stubborn and determined guy, and for sure this was to his benefit,” she said.

“There’s still a couple words, once in a while, that I get stuck on,” he said.

He’s working with a speech therapist.

“I’m not perfect, but I want to beat this thing.”

Looking back, he has much to be thankful for. His fellow officers were like a family, he said.

Officers had a work day, doing yard work at the Ellis house. Even retired officers showed up.

Murray arranged for Masses to be said for Ellis at various churches during the crisis. There were prayer chains.

“We are a Catholic family. When prayers are needed, we know how to find them,” Murray said.

“If it wasn’t for all our friends and family and community, I don’t know if he would be here,” Catherine said.

Anthony Wahl 

Aaron Ellis, a sergeant at the Janesville Police Department, smiles as he keeps score during Saturday’s Cops and Hoses fundraising hockey game at the Janesville Ice Arena. Ellis had two brain surgeries this year and recovered faster than professionals thought he would. ‘He’s a stubborn and determined guy, and for sure this was to his benefit,’ his wife, Catherine, says.

In addition to therapy sessions, Ellis worked on his own to improve. His children, 10th-grader Tyler and seventh-grader Caylee, worked with him, showing him flash cards, Murray said.

Without the surgeries, Ellis had about a 70% chance of having a stroke, Baggott said. With the surgeries, chances are closer to 10%.

“If we had done nothing, certainly the diagnosis is very grim,” Baggott said.

“So, yeah, I got lucky,” Ellis says, again and again.

Counting Wisconsin: What you should know about the 2020 Census

Shortly after returning home from school one day in spring 2010, Luscely Flores, who was 13 at the time, and her mother heard a knock on the door.

Peering through the window, Flores’ mother saw a man holding a laptop. He wore business casual attire and a lanyard around his neck.

Her mother was hesitant to open the door. At the time, ICE raids were becoming more frequent, and the Flores family, as undocumented residents, didn’t want to risk deportation. When Flores realized the man was a census taker, she encouraged her mother to open the door.

“I remember telling my mom, ‘It’s going to be OK. I learned about this in school,’” she recalled.

Eventually, the man came inside. For nearly an hour, Flores translated for her mother, and the census taker noted everyone who was living in the house.

Flores now works for Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Voices, a nonprofit that aims to increase civic engagement. In her role as canvass training manager for the census, Flores shares her story and encourages more people to participate in the census.

While the census is still a couple of months away, here’s what you need to know about it—and what it means for Wisconsin and the nation.

What is the census?

The census is a way for the government to count every living person in the country, and it serves many purposes.

During a news conference, state Rep. David Crowley, D-Milwaukee, explained the importance of the census. The population of a state determines how many seats it receives in the U.S. House of Representatives and how many federal dollars it receives.

Some $675 billion of federal funding is split among the states each year, Crowley said—money that funds education, Medicare, transportation and more. A George Washington University study found that Wisconsin received about $12.6 billion through 55 federal spending programs that are guided by 2010 census data.

Additionally, the census provides the Legislature with fundamental data as it reshapes congressional and legislative districts every 10 years.

What is the census’s history?

The U.S. took its first census in 1790, a time of just 13 states with a population of nearly 4 million.

Thomas Jefferson, the secretary of state and census bureau chief at the time, spearheaded the census. Under his leadership, U.S. Marshals conducted a six-question survey, which was to be done every 10 years. The questions dealt with name, age, sex and race.

In 1830, Congress approved a more uniform questionnaire. In 1940, the census consisted of two surveys: one to count the population and the other to collect housing information. This changed in 1960, when the two surveys were combined. From 1970 through 2000, a short-term survey was sent to all households, while some households received a long-term survey. In 2010, the census consisted of 10 questions.

What are hard-to-count communities?

Some populations are particularly hard to count, whether because members are difficult to locate, contact or interview, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Among them, according to the Census Bureau: children younger than age 5, immigrant and refugee communities, homeless people, Native Americans, Latinx, Hmong, African Americans, people with disabilities, rural residents without broadband access, renters and people with nontraditional housing and LGBTQ populations.

Much of northern Wisconsin might be hard to count, according to a CUNY Mapping Service analysis. During the 2010 census, the region included many communities where census workers did not send mailings to households and instead opted to visit each home to count residents. These tracts were likely undercounted by 8%, according to the analysis.

“Our census affects the monetary resources that our state can get,” said Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat. “Meaning for every person not counted our state loses out on nearly $1,400 per person per year.”

During a news conference, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said the hard-to-count population in Wisconsin is more than 600,000.

Milwaukee County has Wisconsin’s largest concentration of census tracts where few people responded to census mailings in 2010. Some of those tracts are among the hardest to count in the country, according to an interactive map developed by the CUNY Mapping Service at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.

What can address this?

People in hard-to-count communities typically don’t understand the census and its importance, said Marilyn Sanders, a regional director for the Census Bureau.

“It is our goal and our mission to get a complete count in 2020,” she added. “We must count everyone once, only once, and in the right place.”

Wisconsin and dozens of its local governments have launched “complete count committees” that are joining with civic groups to encourage census participation. The groups are relying on trusted voices in those communities to spread the word. They call the process quick, safe and private.

Sharon Robinson, the co-chairwoman of the Greater Milwaukee Complete Count Committee and director of the Department of Administration for the city of Milwaukee, said her committee wants to break down barriers that might prohibit people from participating in the census.

The plan includes setting up kiosks or stations where people can take the census online. For example, the Milwaukee Public Library will have computer spaces available, as will Employ Milwaukee, the local workforce development board.

What are the misconceptions?

There are many misconceptions when it comes to the census, Robinson said, including that the process will take a long time or is inconvenient. Doing it online or by phone is quick and easy, she said, and can take about 10 minutes.

Sanders said the information collected by the census is completely private and cannot be shared with anyone.

Title 13 protects an individual’s information and prohibits it from being shared with any organization, including law enforcement. Census Bureau employees are sworn to confidentiality and can face five years in a federal prison, a fine up to $250,000, or both, for violations.

A census taker will also have a census badge with an identification number, which can be verified by the Census Bureau, Sanders said.

The Census Bureau aims to count every person living in the U.S., regardless of whether they are citizens. The 2020 census will not ask about citizenship status.

President Donald Trump’s administration originally sought to add a citizenship question, but federal courts last year blocked the plan.

How is data being collected?

April 1 is officially Census Day, but the data will initially be gathered in one of three ways: online, by mail or by phone.

By March 20, an invitation will be sent to a majority of households asking them to respond to the online census survey. Some might also receive a paper questionnaire. A reminder letter will follow.

If that household hasn’t responded, then a reminder postcard will be sent by April 3, followed by a reminder letter and a paper questionnaire. A final reminder postcard will be sent by April 27. If at that point, a household has failed to respond, then the Census Bureau will follow up in person, going door to door in June and July.

The online form and telephone line will be available in 13 languages including English, according to the Census Bureau. Additionally, there will be language guides available in 59 languages other than English.

What happens with the data?

By Dec. 31, the Census Bureau will report to the president the population count and the apportionment of seats in the U.S. House to each state. The next year, some census findings will be available to the public.

What can people do to help?

People can sign up to be a census taker or for other positions—or they can simply spread the word at work, parties, places of worship and elsewhere. To become a census taker, call 855-JOB-2020.

This story was originally published by the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. Jim Malewitz, Wisconsin Watch investigations editor, contributed to this report.

Death notices and obituaries for Feb. 10, 2020

Madalyn Anderson

Mazie “Mari” Carr

Arthur Koeller

Geraldine M. Moyer

Warren H. Schesser

Joseph D. Williamson

Joan Watts Wootton

Trump budget to face skepticism, overwhelming politics


Confronted with the threat of trillion-dollar-plus deficits for as far as the eye can see, President Donald Trump is offering a $4.8 trillion budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year that rehashes previously rejected spending cuts while leaving Social Security and Medicare benefits untouched.

Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget plan, to be released today, isn’t likely to generate a serious Washington dialogue about what to do, if anything this election year, about entrenched fiscal problems that have deficits surging despite a healthy economy.

The new budget, according to senior administration aides and a copy of summary tables, sees a $1.08 trillion budget deficit for the ongoing budget year and a $966 billion deficit gap in the 2021 fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

The budget’s most significant policy prescriptions—an immediate 5% cut to non-defense agency budgets passed by Congress and $700 billion in cuts to Medicaid over a decade—are nonstarters on Capitol Hill. But the Trump budget is a blueprint written as if Trump could enact it without congressional approval. It relies on rosy economic projections and fanciful claims of future cuts to domestic programs to show that it is possible to bend the deficit curve in the right direction.

The budget would reduce the deficit to $261 billion within a decade if enacted in its entirety and promises balance after 15 years. Trump’s budget blueprint also assumes 2.8% economic growth this year and growth averaging 3% over the long term.

The reality is that no one—Trump, the Democratic-controlled House or the GOP-held Senate—has any interest in tackling a chronic budget gap that forces the government to borrow 22 cents of every dollar it spends.

Trump’s reelection campaign, meanwhile, is focused on the economy and the historically low jobless rate while ignoring the government’s budget.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats controlling the House have seen their number of deficit-conscious “Blue Dogs” shrink while the roster of lawmakers favoring costly “Medicare for All” and “Green New Deal” proposals has swelled. Tea party Republicans have abandoned the cause that defined, at least in part, their successful takeover of the House a decade ago.

Trump has succumbed to the Washington temptation to deliver spending increases and tax cuts first and then deal—or not—with their impact on the deficit. Trump and key administration figures such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had promised that Trump’s signature cuts to corporate and individual tax rates would pay for themselves; instead the deficit spiked by more than $300 billion over 2017 to 2019, falling just short of $1 trillion.

Trump has also signed two broader budget deals worked out by Democrats and Republicans to get rid of spending cuts left over from a failed 2011 budget accord. The result has been eye-popping spending levels for defense—to about $750 billion this year—and comparable gains for domestic programs favored by Democrats.

Trump’s budget violates last year’s spending accord with an immediate $37 billion cut to nondefense programs appropriated by Congress each year, including a $2.4 billion, 27% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency and a 13% cut to the Department of Transportation.

The Department of Veterans Affairs would get a 13% budget boost.

The White House hasn’t done much to draw attention to this year’s budget release, though Trump has revealed initiatives of interest to key 2020 battleground states, such as an increase to $250 million to restore Florida’s Everglades and a move to finally abandon a multibillion-dollar, never used, nuclear waste dump that’s political poison in Nevada. The White House also leaked word of a $25 billion proposal for “Revitalizing Rural America” with grants for broadband Internet access and other traditional infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges.

The Trump budget also promises a $3 billion increase—to $25 billion—for NASA in hopes of returning astronauts to the moon and on to Mars. It contains a beefed-up, 10-year, $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, a modest parental leave plan, and a 10-year, $130 billion set-aside for tackling the high cost of prescription drugs this year.

Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall would receive a $2 billion appropriation, more than provided by Congress but less than the $8 billion requested last year. Trump has enough wall money on hand to build 1,000 miles of wall, most of it obtained by exploiting his budget transfer powers.

Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to promise voters that his budget “will not be touching your Social Security or Medicare” in keeping with his longstanding 2016 campaign promise.

Trump had made a bit of a stir last month at a meeting of global economic elites in Davos, Switzerland, when he told a CNBC interviewer that “at some point” he would consider curbs to such popular benefit programs as Medicare and Social Security.

“At the right time, we will take a look at that,” Trump said. “You know, that’s actually the easiest of all things.” After Saturday’s tweet, an administration official said, “Every current beneficiary will keep their benefits as the President has always promised.”

Trump has proposed modest adjustments to eligibility for Social Security disability benefits and he’s proposed cuts to Medicare providers such as hospitals, but the real cost driver of Medicare and Social Security is the ongoing retirement surge of the baby boom-generation and health care costs that continue to outpace inflation.

With Medicare and Social Security largely off the table, Trump has instead focused on Medicaid, which provides care to more than 70 million poor and disabled people. President Barack Obama successfully expanded Medicaid when passing the Affordable Care Act a decade ago, but Trump has endorsed GOP plans—they failed spectacularly in the Senate two years ago—to dramatically curb the program.

Trump’s latest Medicaid proposal would allow states that want more flexibility in Medicaid to accept their federal share as a lump sum; for states staying in traditional Medicaid, a 3% cap on cost growth would apply. Trump would also revive a plan, rejected by lawmakers in the past, to cut food stamp costs by providing much of the benefit as food shipments instead of cash.