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Boy clings to life after Janesville turns out for his family

MILWAUKEE

A 3-year-old Janesville boy is in a Milwaukee hospital after suffering a stroke last week, a major setback as he battles the heart defects he was born with.

Bronson Bullock’s mother and father are hoping and waiting, but doctors gave them a grim assessment Wednesday. It appears the stroke inflicted brain damage, and Bronson might not be able to see, walk or speak.

The parents said doctors gave them two choices: turn off the heart/lung machine that helps keep Bronson alive or wait to see if he can recover.

“We’re we still hoping for more time for his brain to heal some of those injuries, and then we can get a second or third opinion,” said Bronson’s father, Mario Bullock.

Submitted Photo 

Bronson Bullock enjoys the summer of 2020 before surgery led to a stroke this fall.

The outpouring

The devastating news came in the wake of a high point in Bronson’s lifelong struggle. It happened Sunday at the Mocha Moment coffee shop in Janesville.

Mario was a regular at the shop, often taking their daughter Zoë there before school, said the children’s mother, Sarah Corey.

Mocha Moment offered to do a fundraiser, and lines went down the street for the event Sunday morning. The shop donated all its proceeds, and nearly $6,500 was raised, the most successful fundraiser the community-minded shop has held, Sarah was told.

While Sarah stayed with Bronson at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Milwaukee, Mario worked the drive-up window. He found himself consoling women who came to offer their cash and comfort. Some were bawling.

One woman who didn’t know the family drove from Fond du Lac, a testament to the power of social media, Sarah said.

Mario, a Chicago native who has lived here for 11 years, said the outpouring of support blew him away. He was still choking up when he talked about it Thursday.

Mario has worked on fundraisers for the local National Association for Mental Illness chapter, where he was board president, And he tried to mobilize support when he ran for county board in 2018, but he had never seen such community spirit, and he is sure he wouldn’t have gotten it in his hometown.

After the fundraiser, Mario posted a video in which he talked to the community: “I know there’s a lot of negativity and hate in the world right now, but if it takes a 3-year-old boy to get people to come together for something positive, then I want everybody to take that to heart. Don’t believe what they say about ‘we’re not all in this together’ because today just taught me something very important: No matter what’s going on in your life, you do have support, no matter what.”

Submitted Photo 

Bronson Bullock waits for his third open-heart surgery in August at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

The costs

Sarah, a 2004 Parker High School grad, is a medical assistant at Mercyhealth North in Janesville. She has insurance to cover Bronson’s treatment, which she expects will run into the millions of dollars, but the couple will shoulder a share of medical costs.

Mario, a bartender at drafthouse in Janesville, said he knew this was coming, so he paid off his bills and socked away money earlier this year, but that money will soon run out. He’s not sure he wants to take donations to help him pay his bills, however.

“I feel bad. I never had people help me out like this before. It’s just huge,” he said.

The beginning

Sarah’s and Mario’s decision is something no one should have to face.

“How can you live with yourself if you can’t talk to your 3-year-old and not know if he’s in pain?” Mario said. “How fair is that for me as a parent to do that to my son, to have him struggle and me not know exactly what’s going on with him?

But for the moment, the parents have decided to go with their first decision, made when Bronson was still in utero: Give him the best chance possible at life.

Sarah got her 20-week ultrasound in October 2016. She and Mario were looking forward to find out the sex of their second child. But she could see in the technician’s eyes that something was wrong.

Submitted Photo 

Bronson Bullock, 3, snoozes his father, Mario Bullock, of Janesville, in August before open-heart surgery.

They were referred to a specialist in Madison. The eventual diagnosis: a cluster of congenital heart defects known as hypoplastic left-heart syndrome, or HLHS.

As Sarah describes it, the left side of his heart didn’t fully form. Doctors offered a series of three open-heart surgeries to prepare him for a fourth: a heart transplant.

Bronson came into the world March 3, 2017, at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Madison. He was taken to American Family Children’s Hospital about six hours later and had his first heart procedure at 4 days old, Sarah said.

Bronson—named after UW-Madison basketball player Bronson Koenig, whose name caught Sarah’s fancy—was sent home at the end of April. Mario had left a job with a lawn-care company in Madison to be closer to their children—Bronson and Zoe, now 7.

A second surgery was set for August 2017, and in between, Bronson’s parents had to check his weight, oxygen levels and weigh his “ins and outs”: what he ate and drank and the products of what he ate and drank.

The second surgery meant another month in the hospital. The family was able to enjoy life for the next three years, Sarah said. There were plenty of checkups, but the only way anyone would know Bronson was not a normal child would be if they saw the scars on his chest.

He would jump off the couch and play with Zoe or on the swing set. He was always smiling or laughing, Sarah recalled: “He was your ideal, happy-go-lucky little 3-year-old.”

The third procedure was this August in Madison. It didn’t go as well. They transferred him in September to Milwaukee, where doctors recommended another surgery to install two tubes in his chest that led to a “ventricular assist device” that would relieve his heart and lungs of some of the work of breathing and pumping blood. The hope was to get him in condition to endure a transplant.

Then the stroke hit him as he was recovering Nov. 3. Doctors say he is no longer a good risk for a transplant. Sarah and Mario are holding onto hope that Bronson can make a comeback and become strong enough to handle a new heart.

Submitted Photo 

Bronson Bullock and his sister, Zoe, enjoy themselves at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in September after Bronson’s surgery.

The breakup

The stresses of caring for Bronson had a lot to do with why Sarah and Mario are not together anymore. They both say they remain very good friends. They open gifts as a family on Christmas.

“We co-parent wonderfully,” Sarah said. “We take the kids to the park, go out for dinners, have ice cream,” trying to keep things as normal as possible for the kids.

“I have the most respect for him. He’s a wonderful dad.”

The fighter

Through it all, Bronson’s capacity to fight has amazed his parents.

When Bronson moved from American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison at the beginning of October, his heart was deteriorating. Sluggish blood flow meant he couldn’t digest food properly.

“I sat with him one day that week as he vomited for four hours. I felt so helpless as he sat there and just threw up in my arms and in towels and buckets,” Mario recalled.

Bronson fell asleep afterward. He awoke in middle of the night, wanting to go for a walk after barely eating for 10 days.

Submitted Photo 

Bronson Bullock rests at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in September.

“Seeing him want to get up and just walk and be active, that’s who he is,” Mario said.

Now, Bronson’s prospects are bleak. Friends comment online that they are praying for a miracle.

Sarah talks about the fight in him: “He is quite the little warrior. He’s been very resilient.”

“I don’t like surgery,” Bronson would say in his little-boy voice, his father recalled.

“He knows what surgery is. I used to tell him all the time, ‘We’re going to get you a new heart. You’re going to be like Iron Man. You’re going to start flying around.’ That’s the only way I could tell him what surgery was.”

The worst

The day after they got the news no parent wants to hear, Mario and Sarah were still sorting out the facts and their feelings.

Bronson can’t communicate. The part of his brain that would help him wake up was damaged.

“A time like this is absolutely insane,” Mario said. “No parent ever wants be put in this position.”

Submitted Photo 

Bronson Bullock wears a shirt with the words ‘Heart warrior’ at a Milwaukee hospital in September. The slogan comes from the organization that supports people suffering from his condition, hypoplastic left-heart syndrome.

“It’s a devastating decision Mario and I have to make,” Sarah said. “We’re trying to stay positive and do what we think is best for Bronson and give him the best opportunities.”

Sarah said doctors have been very open and told them they can take their time. But it’s not just about their decision. Bronson needs to improve, or he’ll never be approved for what he needs to continue living: a new heart.

“But we’re going to keep chugging along,” Mario said. “My thing has always been, if he was done fighting he would’ve checked out a long time ago. He’s a fighter. He’s been fighting this stroke, you can tell, but I don’t know how much fight he has.

“He has surprised the hell out of me. He’s the strongest person I know.”


Local
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Despite hundreds of newly-built apartments, Janesville hungers for more rental

JANESVILLE

A city economic development official says hundreds of newly built apartments are now coming available in Janesville, and hundreds more could be on the way.

The drive for more new apartments—developers say it’s fueled by local demand—seems to be an unquenched thirst, at least for the time being.

Since 2019, Janesville has seen private developers launch new apartment construction throughout the city of 63,000, and those projects are bringing 487 new units to the market. But many of those projects have seen much of their capacity filled immediately, and there are waiting lists now for those seeking tenancy at some of the new apartments.

City Economic Development Director Gale Price said developers and the city have taken stock of continued demand that appears to have persisted despite three sizable new apartment developments being built—including:

  • The 92-unit River Flats downtown.
  • The Glade, an eastside complex of 260 units along the Interstate 90/39 corridor.
  • Diamond Ridge, a 115-unit complex off Milton Avenue on the northeast side.

Price said that for developers including Diamond Ridge, the hustle is on to build out the remaining 20% of its planned units a year ahead of schedule.

Anthony Wahl 

Diamond Ridge Apartments are newly built near Rogan’s Shoes just off Milton Avenue in Janesville. It’s one of several apartment developments that have brought nearly 500 new units to Janesville over the last year. A city official and developers believe there’s enough demand for 250 to 300 additional units.

Meanwhile, other longtime plans, such as the conversion of the former Monterey Hotel downtown to apartments, could be headed to city planners and the plan commission soon, city officials say.

Price said the city and developers’ analysts believe the rental market would support 250 to 300 additional new units at the current demand, and he said there’s no shortage of emerging plans by developers to bring more.

“They (apartment units) are all being absorbed much, much faster than assumed by the developer and the pro forma. They pretty much are leased up soon after the buildings opened,” Price said of one developer’s decision to move ahead with new units on a faster timetable.

“Seriously, those developers thought (it would take) nine months to absorb (demand), and it’s been two months.”

Developers of The Glade, a new set of luxury apartments off East Racine Street, plans to continue its buildout of hundreds of units to add three more apartment buildings. And Price said the developer has signaled that demand for more upscale, “executive” units—ones with multiple bedrooms—is outpacing interest in smaller “efficiency units.”

“They were 100% occupied within 45 or 60 days of opening the first two buildings this year, so the Glade is reducing the third building by nine units by taking efficiencies and combining those with one bedrooms to make more two-bedrooms, as those units are being absorbed very fast into the market,” Price said.

It’s a turnaround on the supply side that’s helping quench demand for new apartments across a range of price levels. River Flats downtown has tabbed its development—a public-private project the city subsidized with tax incentives—as catering to those seeking “affordable housing.”

But at some other of the other, recently-developed apartment complexes such as The Glade, multi-bedroom units are marked with rents upward of $1,300 and $1,800.

Most of those units are two and three-bedroom deluxe models, and most are currently unavailable because they've been rented.

Price said despite some prices for new units tipping toward a premium, developers say there’s no shortage of tenants willing to pay out.

“Rents for the new product is something that people were skeptical about, but the fact is that there are salaries in the community that support the rents. People are making a conscious choice to not buy, but to rent instead,” Price said.

Price and developers believe federal elimination of tax write-offs based on real estate taxes and interest payments has some people opting to rent, which lets them off the hook on maintenance and other long-term costs of home ownership.

At Diamond Ridge, many apartments are now filled. Newer cars abound in the parking spots at a complex so newly completed that grass seeding still stands bald and covered in straw. Rows of tenant mailboxes are still secured temporarily to boards fastened to construction sawhorses as earth moving vehicles continue grading on the edge of the property.

Price said he believes a continued influx of labor in Janesville and Beloit will likely continue to drive demand for apartments as people look to move here for work. Meanwhile, Janesville is seeing a continued trend toward people downsizing from their homes to apartments, or moving from older apartments to newer ones coming online.

Later this month, Jim Grafft and a Madison partner are expected to bring the city plans to convert the defunct Monterey Hotel to apartments—a plan sources say could bring about 53 more units downtown at a time when private stakeholders and the city are focused heavily on revitalizing the downtown’s riverfront.

The seven-story, former art deco hotel in its vacant, aging condition, has long been viewed as a both a hurdle for downtown redevelopment and a potential centerpiece for revitalization.

Earlier this fall, when Forward Janesville’s charitable arm bought the 23,000-square-foot former First National Bank building, a vacant, historic building that dominates a city block on West Milwaukee Street, the chamber of commerce said it planned a market study to see whether the downtown needs more rental housing given the hundreds of new units already being built.

Developers in the past few years have eyed the property for potential apartments. But Tim Lindau, who heads Forward Janesville’s board, told The Gazette that the chamber—which doesn’t normally operate as a real estate holding company—wants a market evaluation to determine the best use for the circa-1913 bank and whether additional apartments would be marketable given the likely cost to a developer to buy and retrofit the former bank.

Price said he’s advising developers who look to continue apartment builds in Janesville to consider a recent, national trend: work from home.

Price said demographic demand indicates that some younger urban workers in Madison and the Chicago area who have shifted to working from home during the pandemic are eyeing apartments in Janesville as base camps because of the relative affordability of rents.

One staffer in the city’s IT department told Price his friend found prices for apartments in Janesville so enticing he moved back to Janesville from Chicago. That tenant now does a blend of commuting to Chicago and work-at-home from his new Janesville flat.

“When I heard that, I jumped up and yelled, ‘That’s great!’” Price said. “It’s a very real trend, and it’s happening, so we really want to look at it as an opportunity to go after.”

This story has been altered from an earlier version to clarify that The Glade is among new local apartment developments that has been charging $1,300 to $1,800 in rent for some deluxe, multi-bedroom units.


Politics
AP
Wisconsin elections head says still no evidence of fraud

MADISON

There remained no evidence of any wrongdoing, fraud or irregularity in Wisconsin’s presidential election Thursday as counties worked to wrap up the certification of their votes and their estimates of how much it would cost to recount them, the state’s top elections official said.

Democrat Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump in Wisconsin by about 20,500 votes, based on unofficial results. Trump and his allies have made unsubstantiated claims of wrongdoing, with no evidence, and Republicans in the Legislature have said they planned to launch an investigation into the integrity of the election.

Election results from 55 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties were certified as of Thursday morning, with only marginal net changes to the unofficial results that were reported on election night.

Biden has picked up 43 additional votes while Trump gained 39, giving Biden a net pickup of just four votes. One reason for the changes is the counting of provisional ballots that came in after Election Day, said Meagan Wolfe, the state’s top elections official. She said there were 366 provisional ballots issued in the presidential election.

“It’s rare to see any sort of significant changes,” Wolfe said. “There’s always minor errors. ... We’re certainly not seeing anything unusual.”

Wolfe defended the integrity of the election, noting all the opportunities the public has to observe the process, including on Election Day, during the county canvass and during any recount that might occur.

“The election process in itself is designed to be transparent,” she said. “It’s designed for people to ask questions and raise concerns every step of the way. ... Everything from the issuance of absentee ballots to voter registration records, those are all publicly observable, available to public scrutiny.”

Because Trump’s margin of defeat is less than one percentage point, he can request a recount. He can’t make that request until the last county canvasses the vote. The deadline is Tuesday, and Brown County Clerk Sandy Juno said she didn’t expect to finish until then because the county was thinly staffed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump is also responsible for paying for the recount before it starts. The 2016 recount, which was paid for by Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s campaign, cost $2 million. Clerks estimate that costs this year could be higher because of the challenges posed by the pandemic, such as finding larger venues to safely conduct the recount, Wolfe said.

“A pandemic changes a lot when it comes to spacing issues,” Wolfe said.

If Trump requests a recount, as promised, that would start the clock on a series of deadlines to begin and complete the recount. Once it starts, clerks would have 13 calendar days to finish it. Dec. 8 is the deadline for the elections commission to certify the election results if there is a recount.

Any recount is not expected to result in widespread changes to the result. The 2016 presidential recount netted 131 additional votes for Trump, who defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by fewer than 23,000 votes in Wisconsin.

Thirteen of the 55 counties that had completed their canvasses as of Thursday reported no change in the results. Most counties reported only a handful of changes.


Obituaries and death notices for Nov. 13, 2020

Blaine H. Adams

Orlando “Chuck” Behling

Thomas E. Collentine

Laura M. Cox

William L. “Bill” Cushman

David D. Drabek

Barbara E. Harnack-Wien

Ernest Webb Lowry Jr.

Raymond Otto Matejovsky

Leonard R. “Rusty” Pitt

Elmer L. Schutt

Sherry Lynn Wells

Donald S. Wollenzien


Education
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Janesville School Board allows winter high school sports competitions beginning Dec. 1

JANESVILLE

Janesville’s high schools will begin playing winter sports Dec. 1.

After a passionate and winding discussion that included several failed motions Thursday night, the Janesville School Board voted, 5-3, to postpone the start of winter sports competitions until Dec. 1.

“We haven’t had a meeting like that in a long time; 2020 has been a real beauty,” board member Kevin Murray said. “This current board, we get along so well. The decision to go to school face-to-face (to start the school year) was intense. And this was, too. I love these people, but there was certainly disagreement.

“At least the kids, in the end, starting Dec. 1, will play some games if we can get there.”

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association’s official competition start dates for winter sports range from Nov. 24 to Dec. 10, depending on the sport. Janesville’s board voted previously to postpone all fall sports because of COVID-19 concerns and to accept the WIAA’s modified “alternate fall” season set to take place in spring 2021.

Twice on Thursday the board voted on motions to proceed with winter sports as originally scheduled, with some teams beginning practice Monday and able to begin officially playing games Nov. 23.

Both times the vote was deadlocked, 4-4, with Jim Millard, Michelle Haworth, Kevin Murray and Dale Thompson voting in favor and Greg Ardrey, Karl Dommershausen, Cathy Myers and Lisa Hurda voting against. Board President Steve Huth was absent. A tie meant the motions failed.

“It seems contradicting and not logical,” Hurda said. “My son is a sophomore, and he loves basketball. He does not want to play basketball this year because of the virus.”

“I’m watching kids in my classroom drop like flies,” said Myers, who is a teacher. “I was a four-sport athlete myself. I believe in sports. I don’t want to see sports canceled.

“But Option 1 (to proceed with sports as scheduled) suggests we’re in a normal situation.”

Dommershausen said he keeps close tabs on COVID-19 data and is worried it is going to get worse before it gets better. Ardrey appeared to be on the fence and asked for COVID-19 numbers among Janesville staff and students before deciding to vote against starting sports on time.

After one failed motion to postpone sports, Myers made a motion to postpone the start of winter athletic competitions until Jan. 16, with practices conducted in four-person pods. Jan. 16 marks the start of the second semester of school.

Craig High School Athletic Director Ben McCormick noted while answering a question by a board member that starting Jan. 18 could leave a sport such as wrestling without any regular season because the WIAA tournament is set to begin Jan. 25.

Murray then proposed an amendment to Myers’ motion that would change the date from Jan. 18 to Dec. 1. That amendment passed, 5-3, with Ardrey joining Murray, Haworth, Thompson and Millard in voting “yes.”

Those same five then also voted “yes” on the motion, bringing an end to the whirlwind affair.

“Essentially it was kind of Option 1, but not its entirety,” Murray said. “It’s not all co-curriculars at this point, and athletics can start competing Dec. 1 with (safety) guidelines in place.”

There was confusion from the beginning of the discussion as to whether the board was discussing all extracurricular activities or just sports. The final motion included sports only, which was a tipping point for Ardrey, he said.

“Every vote was very difficult for me,” Ardrey said. “I know that the coaches have worked through protocols and the WIAA has given guidance, so I feel better from a sports standpoint. But the original motion involved all co-curriculars. I felt that those hadn’t been looked at.

“It was far less about sports and more about other things included in the initial motion.”

For sports programs such as boys basketball, the decision has little to no effect. Per the WIAA’s official calendar, the first date a game can be played was already Dec. 1.

Assistant Superintendent Scott Garner, who presented the district’s plans and options to the board remotely, said there were enough area teams moving ahead with sports to be able to put together a nonconference schedule. The Big Eight and Badger conferences have already announced they will not conduct league seasons, but Janesville’s high schools in the Big Eight now join more than half of the Badger—including Milton—in attempting winter sports, with other area teams such as Edgerton, Evansville or Turner—who also approved sports this week—potential options.

Games will be played without fans, but they will be livestreamed so fans can watch remotely.

The board also voted that sports will be suspended if either Craig or Parker pivots to all-virtual learning or if the district goes virtual entirely.

Thursday’s meeting also included public comments from 10 Janesville residents—including student-athletes, parents and coaches—all in support of playing winter sports.

“Many of us have dreamed of our senior year since we were freshmen. However, there is no longer anything to dream about,” Parker senior girls basketball player Alli Rosga said. “Missing out on another sports season will impact kids’ lives more than you know, especially the seniors.”

As of Thursday, Rosga and her teammates officially have a start date to their season.