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Hannah Kiresuk, 27, Roseville

Nominated by Teri Kiresuk, 56, Roseville

My daughter, Hannah, was diagnosed with a rare form of juvenile myasthenia gravis in high school. A gifted skier and tuba player, she had to give up everything to fight for her life when she did not respond well to treatments. Over a nine-year period, Hannah endured more than 1,500 plasmapheresis treatments, a process to remove and replace blood plasma. She was unable to walk more than 100 feet. She required a ventilator for sleeping. She became short of breath talking. She had difficulty eating, and frequently choked. Life was not easy, and Hannah wanted to give up several times. But Hannah has always had a tenacious spirit, she always kept dreaming of all the things she could do in her future. About a year ago, she underwent radiation therapy for a thymus tumor that may have been contributing to her MG symptoms; she completed that therapy in November. By February, she could take a step or two without her walker, was awake for longer periods, had enough energy to have a conversation. Now Hannah walks up to 6 miles daily without any crutch or brace, and no longer needs a ventilator. She has reapplied for her driver's license. She is off all pain and anxiety medications. She worked full-time at the Minnesota State Fair and now is researching working or studying abroad, which has been a long-term dream for her. It's hard to believe that such a small tumor could have been causing such debilitating symptoms. We are, for the first time in over 10 years, feeling hopeful. Hannah is planning for her future. She is my inspiration.

BFFs Ana Pilon, top, and Cheryl Meyer
BFFs Ana Pilon, top, and Cheryl Meyer

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Ana Pilon, 79, Roseville

Nominated by Cheryl Meyer, 78, Roseville

The story: Ana and I met when each of us moved into a new senior residence. She's Puerto Rican from New York City. I'm a Swede from St. Paul. We were both in our 70s. Almost from the beginning, we knew that our friendship was special. One afternoon, we were eating pizza at a restaurant, reading lines of poetry from a book we both loved. It was so exciting to hear various lines read out loud. "Wait, wait!" we'd say. "Listen to this one!" From that moment on, I knew that there was no one like Ana. I didn't know that this late in life one could still find depth and quality in a new relationship. Once COVID hit, we relied on each other for sanity. We wrote together. We talked together. We escaped together to remind ourselves that we were still human and needed to be about the world. When you are in your 70s, each day is precious. To not feel the lushness of each day because of quarantines and mandates is painful. Ana helped keep me from despair. We each helped the other find hope and a better day. Today, everything is far less confining, so the two of us are out and about doing the things we love: movies, plays, shopping. But most important, we love just being together and sharing our thoughts.

Don Richards
Don Richards

Provided

Don Richards, 89, River Falls, Wis.

Nominated by Bill Halverson, 83, River Falls

The story: Don is an inspiration to me in so many ways. He was a long-time River Falls High School journalism and English teacher. In retirement, he was four times elected River Falls mayor. During his eight-year tenure, he led efforts around the environment, diversity, equity and inclusion, sensible city growth and improving working relationships at UW-River Falls. He also helped to promote and build a beautiful new city hall that stands as a landmark of pride for our community. Today, Don delivers Meals On Wheels, and is a member of the Assistance and Resource Center, calling people who need aid and counseling. He is active in Big Brothers. He participates yearly in fundraising for the River Falls Food Pantry. Don lives his beliefs on a daily basis. He and wife, Ellie, are well-read and well-traveled. He works out daily at a fitness center. And he turns 90 next March!