Idaho Falls (EastIdahoNews.com) — Mike and Lauriann Bartell celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary Saturday.
They met while attending church in Utah nearly three decades ago and thought their lives would be perfect.
And with six kids joining their family over the years, Mike says things were pretty good.
“I remember telling Lauri, ‘I’m a little nervous because our lives have been so good. I’m afraid something bad is going to happen because God doesn’t let you run around having everything be great,’” Mike says.
What that young couple didn’t know on that cold December day in 1990 was that life would throw them a gigantic curveball years later – one that could make or break their family forever.
Lauri was one of those outgoing people who loved to talk, and everybody loved her, her family says. She remembered interesting things about friends and always made time to serve others.
“She made everybody feel great. She knew everything about them,” Mike says during a recent conversation with EastIdahoNews.com.
But in 2015, everything changed. Doctors found an ulcer in Lauri’s intestine that was bleeding. They decided she needed surgery and admitted her to the hospital Aug. 31.
Following the procedure, Lauri complained that she didn’t feel right. Two days later, still in the hospital, she suddenly woke Mike up.
“I was in the rocking chair next to her sleeping,” Mike says. “She told me something was wrong, so I called the nurses and doctors right away.”
The cauterization on her ulcer had broken loose and torn into a major artery, Mike says.
“She asked me to give her a blessing. Those were the last words she said, and I was finishing the blessing as the doctors were going crazy trying to help her. The nurses were saying, ‘Ms. Bartell, Ms. Bartell,’ and shaking her and trying to get her to talk,” Mike says.
Mike says Lauri bled out and lost her pulse twice. She was rushed into emergency surgery and miraculously survived, but a lack of oxygen to her brain caused major damage, and doctors didn’t think she could pull through.
“I came home and told the children that it looked like Mom wasn’t going to make it,” Mike says. “Then on Monday they ran another CT scan, and there was a big change. She had brain activity again. So the neurologist told me if it was me, I wouldn’t give up. I’d take her home and try.”
That’s exactly what Mike did. After a six week hospital stay, he brought Lauri home. She couldn’t speak, move, eat, respond or do much of anything – but that didn’t matter to him or the kids.
“I would rather take care of her here than have to send her somewhere else,” says Sadie Bartell, the couple’s only daughter.
At first, Lauri had a tracheotomy to help her breathe but after seven months, doctors were able to remove it. There’s been other progress as well.
“She wakes up, she looks as us now, she recognizes when you call to her – there are a lot of little things,” Mike says.
Mike says Lauri is in a coma and has brain activity. She could potentially emerge from the coma, but it’s unlikely given that she has experienced severe brain damage.
One of the Bartell’s five sons, Matthew, was 14 when his mom had the surgery. He didn’t tell his friends or teachers about what happened but over the years, has come to accept that this is his family’s new reality.
When asked if he ever wishes his mom were “normal” and that they could have a conversation, his response is immediate.
“Every day of my life,” Matthew says. “Every day. Me and my mom were pretty close. I love my mom to death. She’s like my favorite person I’ve ever met.”
HELP FROM OTHERS – AND A POP STAR
Despite the challenges, the Bartells say they’re closer than they’ve ever been. One reason is they all work and contribute money so bills can be paid.
“Everybody just kind of tosses money in to the pot to keep us going,” Mike says. “We’ve had to learn to live on hardly anything. She has disability insurance, and it’s the best thing she can have. The problem with it is you can only make a little bit of money.”
Mike’s full-time job is caring for Lauri. He says he’s paid in blessings and credits the generosity of friends, family members and strangers for helping the family survive. A GoFundMe account has raised nearly $29,000 over the past three years.
“People have come out of the woodwork giving us money and trying to help us out,” Mike says.
One of those people? Taylor Swift.
Earlier this year, Sadie posted about her mom’s condition on Tumbler and tagged Swift – her favorite singer. Hundreds of other fans shared the post and tagged the pop star. A few weeks later, a donation of $15,500 was deposited to the family’s GoFundMe account from Swift herself.
“I just started screaming. I looked at the thing and I bawled my eyes out,” Sadie remembers. “My dad started crying when I told him. It was just surreal. It will never feel real to me.”
Many ask Mike why he hasn’t admitted Lauri into a facility. After all, it would ease the financial burden on the family and life could be easier.
“She would rather pass on than be in a facility. The reason we have taken care of her like this is because she loves being with her family, and if she couldn’t be with her family, she would rather go,” Mike says, holding back tears. “She’s a very faithful person and believes God’s waiting there for her so she wouldn’t have any problem moving on. But she loves being with her family and I know this is where she wants to be.”
Lauri is doing fine physically. She receives nutrition through a feeding tube, and Mike sleeps next to her on a separate mattress – waking up every two hours to turn her over so she doesn’t get bedsores.
“Mike is so amazing as far as the care he’s giving,” Dr. Michael Harris says. “The home care folks report they’ve never seen someone look after a partner so well. And with ample care, as long as the brain stem is working, people can live for a long time.”
It’s unknown if Lauri knows what’s happening around her but what Mike does know is that when he’s not near her, she makes distressing noises until he calms her down.
He also knows she’s content and happy when her family is around and that as a husband he, 28 years ago this month, committed to love and serve his wife forever – no matter what.
“As kind and sweet as she’s always been to everybody in the family, and the way she raised the kids, and the way she’s been as a wife, I feel grateful that I get to serve her,” Mike says.