A miracle among us, the Marlene Jonas story

Louise Oleson Journal Managing Editor
Marlene Jonas

For Devils Lake resident Marlene Jonas October 4 is a very special day. It is the fifth anniversary of an event that nearly took her life, but certainly changed it forever.

Following the advice from her medical professional Jonas went into a hospital in Grand Forks for a routine angiogram. They had suspected she had a blockage and needed a closer look. She was only 47 years old.

When she awoke from the procedure she thought she had died because standing over her was Joe Roller, former Devils Lake resident and coach whom she knew had passed away a number of years before.

“Am I dead?” she wondered as she struggled to understand what was happening. Nothing seemed to make any sense and she couldn’t communicate with anyone.

In fact, it wasn’t Joe Roller, but his son, Matt Roller who is a doctor of neurology in Grand Forks. He was attending her case and, yes, looks a lot like his father.

Jonas had trouble comprehending and communicating because she had a series of strokes during the angiogram procedure, perhaps as many as seven strokes.

It was determined that during the procedure numerous blood clots were released and the strokes those clots caused left her trapped inside her own body unable to speak, partially paralyzed, almost deaf and with double vision.

That was five years ago Oct. 4 and it has been a long road for Jonas to travel back from that day she woke up thinking she’d died and was being visited by coach Roller.

“The doctors didn’t think I would be any more than a vegetable,” she said.

She was even given Last Rites by a priest on staff at the hospital because they were certain she would not survive and yet she did.

Jonas believes that she has experienced a miracle.

In spite of the odds, five years later she has relearned to talk, walk and she can do many things that she used to be able to do, although maybe in a different way, like walking now using a walker. She says she was reborn that day as a disabled person but her attitude and faith in God has brought her through it all.

“On my one year anniversary I held a stroke party at the church. It was close to Halloween so there were all these candies that were gummy brains so we gave those out as prizes and ate cauliflower - that looks like brains, too. And we played pin the brain stem on the brain instead of pin the tail on the donkey. There was a piñata with ‘beat out strokes’ sign on it,” she said with a laugh.

“It was a lot of fun.”

Each year she and Dr. Matt Roller team up to present her case to the UND medical students. “Each time they have me dead,” she says. “And then I let them know it was me and I am far from dead.”

She’s getting ready to share her experience with Catholic Daughters, too, an organization she belongs to. “I can’t work so I do a lot of volunteer work with the Salvation Army and Mercy Hospital Auxiliary and Catholic Daughters,” she explains.

The double vision, partial loss of hearing and partial paralysis are things she copes with but it makes it impossible for her to do some things, like drive a car or cook for herself other than heating up things in a microwave. Therefore she has a personal aid who helps her with shopping, paying bills, cleaning and cooking once a week.

Otherwise Jonas manages just fine.

She says at five years out “this is as good as it’s going to get” meaning there will be no further recovery.  

She says, however, that she has learned a lot and wanted to share a quote that sums up part of what she’s learned, “Never ignore a person who loves you, cares for you and misses you, because one day, you might wake up and realize you lost the moon while counting the stars.”