At age 16, when most teenagers are worried about getting their driver’s licenses, Janesville native Stacey Glissendorf had her first of 41 surgeries. As a teenager she started walking with a slight limp. Then she woke up one morning unable to hear.
“Her dad took her to urgent care,” said Kristeena Glissendorf, Stacey’s stepmother. “They said she was faking it and just didn’t want to go to school. The next day we went to another doctor and they said the same thing. Finally, we said that she wasn’t faking and this was something. So they did an MRI.”
A neurologist found tumors on Stacey’s brain stem, that also compressed auditory nerves. The doctor told them she wouldn’t make it through the weekend unless a surgeon could be found immediately.
“I was dumbfounded,” Kristeena said. “I was very upset because now I have to go home and tell not only her parents that she might not make it, but also her.”
Fortunately, the Glissendorf family soon heard from a surgeon in Madison who assured them that everything would be fine.
However, that procedure would mark the beginning of a long, hard road for Stacey, now 35 years old and receiving hospice care.
Stacey’s doctor diagnosed her with the genetic disorder neurofibromatosis type 2 or NF2. The disorder causes the growth of noncancerous tumors in the nervous system. The disorder can cause deafness and facial weakness. Stacey is deaf and partially blind from a tumor in her right eye. She suffers from more tumors throughout her body.
There are two ways people acquire NF2: either it’s hereditary or it’s caused by a random genetic mutation. In Stacey’s case, it was a mutation.
“They tested the whole family and nobody has markers for it,” said Jeremiah Elmer, Stacey’s friend and caretaker. “She has the random mutation, and she has a very aggressive form of it.”
Elmer said he met Stacey through Facebook more than 10 years ago. They became close friends, and as her health worsened, he started looking after her. Elmer stays with Stacey at her Janesville apartment.
Stacey and Elmer communicate through their own version of sign language.
“It’s a language not even interpreters really understand,” Elmer explained with a laugh.
Two other fixtures at Stacey’s apartment are her orange and white cat Tips and her dog, a miniature pinscher named Princess. Tips was adopted in 2020 at the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin, and Princess will turn 8 years old this December.
Tips, Elmer said, “won’t have anything to do with me. She’ll be glued to (Stacey). She’s very attached.”
Princess was seen trying to hop on Stacey’s bed but needed assistance because she’s so small. Stacey’s dad, Charles, picked the dog up and placed her on Stacey’s lap to the delight of both. Princess soon fell asleep between Stacey’s legs while Stacey rubbed her back.
Through Elmer, Stacey expressed regret she hadn’t done a lot with her life. As her health worsened, Stacey’s doctor told her friends and family that she should receive the hospice care she’s getting now.
Despite her circumstance, Stacey came up with the idea to hold a fundraiser for the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin.
“She told me the other day that she wanted to do this because she loves her pets,” Charles said.
Katie Swedlund, business development director at the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin, said people will reach out often to help the humane society with a fundraiser.
“It’s really cool every time because everybody always has an incredible story to tell,” Swedlund said. “I’m always so thankful that they choose us to help tell that story and be part of their journey.”
With her father translating through their special sign language, Stacey made clear her love for animals and why she wants to help the humane society.
“She wishes she could take every animal at the humane society and let them live with her, but that would be too much because it costs a lot to feed them,” Charles said. “She said, ‘I really want to do this because guys take animals and hurt them, and I just want to slap them.’ She said, ‘If you don’t want an animal, simply take them to the humane society.’”
Through all the hardship her disease has wrought, Stacey remains positive and is always smiling.
Stacey’s family recently took her to a baseball game in Boston and enjoyed the experience.
“She knew everything that was going on,” Kristeena said.
“She won’t even tell me when she’s in pain,” Charles said. “She’ll tell him”— motioning to Elmer—“sometimes. When we took her to Boston, she didn’t complain. I think it helps her to be out and doing something. When we took her, we had a wheelchair and she loved it.”
To donate to Stacey's GoFundMe for the humane society, click here.
Susan Fay Blasier
Laura S. Coyne
Lamar E. Deuel Sr.
Sandra M. Draeving
Richard J. Erskine
Robert “Bob” Neil Kresl
Muriel J. “Mert” Lagerman
Margaret Elisabeth “Betty” White
Some local officials praised aspects of Rock County’s practices for dealing with domestic and intimate partner abuse while others reiterated the need for reform after a report compiled by an area police chief and county data analyst found a high rate of domestic violence cases in Rock County.
The Gazette reported Monday on a presentation given by researcher Kendra Schiffman and Edgerton police Chief Robert Kowalski in which they highlighted the findings of a report they compiled concerning recent domestic violence charges against a man who was later accused of killing the same victim.
In the report, Schiffman and Kowalski said Rock County reported more than 7.2 domestic violence-related incidents per 1,000 people, higher than Wisconsin’s rate of 5.3 incidents per 1,000 and the U.S. rate of 4.8 incidents per 1,000.
Officials who spoke Thursday to The Gazette about the report included Schiffman, Kowalski, Janesville police Chief Dave Moore and Jessi Luepnitz, program director at YWCA Rock County.
The discussion centered around various practices within the criminal justice system and programs offered to victims of domestic violence.
Reaching out in timeOfficials said the high rate of reported incidents can be attributed to an effective network of advocacy groups, law enforcement and community-based tools in Rock County.
Such tools include a 24-hour phone and text line, lethality assessment training, and adjustments in abuse classification terminology that help police determine which offenders might be the biggest threats to their victims and the public.
One of the more critical elements of handling domestic abuse is the speed of the response. The sooner a case is reported to the YWCA or law enforcement, the easier it is for the system to react, the officials said.
Luepnitz hailed the lethality assessment program the police department started in 2018. It consists of an 11-question survey used to assess threats and is conducted at the scene of a reported incident.
Luepnitz cited a 20% increase in the YWCA’s caseload in the three years since the assessment’s introduction.
“Roughly 25% of our clients are connected to us through law enforcement,” she said, adding word-of-mouth and the crisis lines funnel many more to her organization.
Moore said an interesting result of the assessment program has been the streamlining of the domestic violence response team’s work. In the past, team members would assure a victim’s immediate safety but then leave and return within 72 hours to follow up and offer resources. Based on a victim’s answers, the assessment lets authorities immediately offer further help beyond just physical safety.
Luepnitz said the time between the reporting of an incident and the victim leaving the scene of abuse is critical. She described a coordinated effort in which people go to a victim’s residence when the abuser is away and pack things such as clothes, birth certificates and other personal belongings.
“Anything that you’re going to need to move forward without that abusive individual in your life, and then plan it out so that it’s done safely, and hopefully, without further incident,” she said.
Room for growthMoore described some areas for improvement in the county’s handling of domestic abuse cases, including improving the lethality assessment protocols and what he described as a deficient pretrial assessment process. He said pretrial assessments sometimes inadequately deal with suspects in domestic violence cases and fail to provide crucial information to those in the criminal justice system, particularly judges and prosecutors.
Moore said insufficient pretrial assessments can hinder judges’ and prosecutors’ ability to accurately deterimine the threat suspects pose before they are released from custody. He said the problem is compounded by the bond system.
“You can only look at it (setting a bond) through the lens of the likelihood to appear in court,” Moore said. “There is no formalized consideration for public safety or victim safety.”
Kowalski suggested the creation of a law making domestic violence a chargeable offense, similar to those that exist in other states. He gave an example of suspects locally who are charged in cases where battery and disorderly conduct take the place of domestic violence charges.
In some instances, suspects in these scenarios plead guilty to different enhanced charges related to the same case, effectively expunging the charge of a violent crime from their record.
“Maybe we need to change some of our laws to have a domestic violence law, as opposed to all those charges being an enhancement with domestic violence.”
Informing the publicIn the end, the formula for an effective system for reporting domestic violence boils down to the community. Schiffman said educational efforts can let people know of best practices and available resources for people in abusive situations.
“I think some people have a very limited idea of what the resources are and what’s needed and how dangerous and challenging that is,” she said.
Schiffman said this often leads to victim blaming because people who are “bystanders” don’t have an understanding of how difficult it can be for the victim to leave an abusive relationship.
A solution she recommended was incorporating early intervention education in schools to help teach children to recognize signs of abuse at home.
“There needs to be much more community support for early intervention so they’re not normalizing some of the more controlling abusive behavior and that they themselves are empowered to say ‘That’s not OK,’” she said.
A Beloit Police Department investigation of a McNeel Intermediate School teacher allegedly taping a student’s mask to his face Tuesday determined no violations of local ordinances or state law occurred, according to Police Chief Andre Sayles.
The department investigated the incident and found “no evidence of child abuse or any other crime occurring,” Sayles said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
“Our investigation shows that there was an incident regarding mask wearing in the classroom,” Sayles said. “We have interviewed the two teachers and all of the students who were present. The information we have obtained shows that there were no violations of local ordinances or state law.”
Sayles added that the “reporting party provided multiple inconsistencies in the information provided to police and to the media,” which led to threats being made against school district staff.
On Wednesday, Adams Publishing Group received a screen capture of a Facebook message made by a woman who said a teacher at McNeel Intermediate School had used duct tape to hold a student’s mask on his face after he pulled the mask down in class.
Beloit School District Superintendent Dan Keyser said staff at the school cooperated with the police investigation.
“As a school district we are legally required to follow the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and are unable to respond to inquiries regarding any incidents involving students and staff,” he said.
Keyser did say school staff had received “racist, hate speech from unknown individuals and organizations” in connection with the allegations of child abuse.
“We have zero tolerance for hate speech, violence or threats made against our staff and district,” Keyser said, and the Beloit Police Department is investigating the threats.
In response to the incident, a protest is planned for 3 p.m. Nov. 5 in front of the Kolak Education Center, 1500 Fourth St., according to a Facebook event page in support of the unnamed student and their family.
Face mask requirements, put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, have become a source of controversy at schools across the nation.