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Jennifer Kinney: The battle to recover

A benefit will be held Sunday, March 9, from 2:30 to 8 p.m. at The Rock Nightclub in Maplewood, Minn., for a Hudson native battling a rare illness.

Jennifer Kinney is at the Courage Center in Golden Valley, Minn., recovering from a stroke brought on by moyamoya, a disease that closes the arteries that bring blood to the head and brain.

The 30-year-old Kinney is learning to talk again and undergoing therapy to regain movement in the right side of her body after being hospitalized shortly after Thanksgiving Day 2007.

She is the daughter of Stephen and Diane Kinney of Hudson and a 1996 graduate of Hudson High School. The Kinneys operate the Ameriprise Financial office at 86 Coulee Road.

Jennifer's sister Lisa (Kinney) John of West St. Paul, Minn., has organized the "Going Green" fund-raiser, which will feature a spaghetti dinner, silent auction and live performances by four musical groups.

The musical acts include Pert Near Sandstone, a popular Twin Cities bluegrass band, the Dance Circle blues band, alternative rockers Jon Wayne and the Pain, and acoustic soloist JD.

Friends and relatives of the large extended Kinney family are invited to come and enjoy a meal and conversation, do some dancing, and bid on a few of the environmentally friendly products that will be offered in the silent auction. The Rock is located a block east of the Maplewood Mall on Woodlynn Avenue.

John said she picked the "Going Green" theme for the event because her sister is an environmentalist.

Kinney was operating a Minneapolis organic cleaning business when she suffered the debilitating stroke. She has a business degree from UW-River Falls.

She completed her college education as a single mother. Her 5-year-old daughter, Patti, is currently staying with her parents and attending Trinity Academy.

Diane Kinney said Jennifer began having brief episodes of numbness in her right hand and arm last fall. A few of her words would also come out slurred every once in a while.

Diane said the episodes were far enough apart that Jennifer wasn't greatly concerned about them initially. But when they began occurring more regularly, she went to see a doctor, who scheduled her for an MRI scan.

The MRI showed some degeneration of nerve endings and the doctor told Kinney that it looked like she had the start of multiple sclerosis. The diagnosis didn't fit entirely, however, because there was no history of MS in Kinney's family.

The episodes of numbness and slurred speech continued to increase in frequency. Then on a weekend morning after Thanksgiving, Kinney awoke with a headache so severe she was admitted to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

Diane said the hospital performed another MRI, which showed a little more damage to Jennifer's brain, but not enough to dissuade doctors from their original diagnosis of MS.

They began treating her with heavy doses of steroids and ordered a battery of blood and other tests over a period of three days to rule out other possible causes of her condition.

Finally, an angiogram of the blood flow in her brain showed a large area that had been affected by the complete closure of the artery that supplies the left side of the brain with blood.

The left side of the brain is the one that controls speech and the right side of the body.

The carotid artery supplying blood to the right side of her brain was partially closed, but not enough to affect the left side of her body.

The angiogram led to the discovery that Kinney has moyamoya, the uncommon disease that shuts down blood flow to the head and brain.

"She's got a long road ahead of her," Diane Kinney said of her daughter. "They don't know with these brain injuries how much they come back. They do know that a lot of rehabilitation happens in the first year or two, and then it kind of levels off."

Jennifer has progressed to the point where she is walking unassisted. She can lift her right arm, but is still unable to grasp anything with it.

Diane said Jennifer recognizes her friends and loved ones and tries earnestly to communicate with them using gestures. Family members and the Courage Center staff have been attempting to help her re-learn short sentences she can us to interact with people.

Diane said a neuro-psychologist who recently administered a battery of tests to measure Jennifer's cognitive abilities isn't as optimistic about her progress as family members are.

"I don't know if we're in denial or what," Diane said, "but we know her and know how she is progressing."

The Kinneys were planning to meet with a surgeon on Wednesday to talk about a bypass operation that Jennifer might undergo. It would involve rerouting an artery into her brain to increase the supply of blood.

"We have 100-some questions and we want to be certain this is the right surgeon for Jen," Diane wrote in a March 1 post on Jennifer's CaringBridge Web page,

Jennifer's sister Lisa said she organized Sunday's event to raise money to pay back rent, student loans and other bills that have accumulated since Jennifer had the stroke.

"I'm praying for three thousand (dollars), but my goal is four thousand," John said of her hopes for the fund-raiser.

People also can contribute to the cause by writing a check to the Jennifer Kinney Benefit Fund and dropping it off at the Associated Bank office in downtown Hudson. Checks can be mailed to Associated Bank, 307 Second St., Hudson, WI 54016, Attention: Jennifer Kinney Benefit Fund.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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