Community fundraiser scheduled
Robert and Kate Lutzenhiser have owned and operated a downtown business in Stevensville for over 30 years. They have been an integral part of the community, providing art, culture and fellowship to their friends and business colleagues through good times and bad. They represent all that is good about Stevensville, a town they truly love. Although they would probably never ask for it, now they need a little help.
In the fall of 2019, at yet another First Friday celebration – a Stevensville tradition that they started decades ago – someone noticed that Robert looked “kind of yellow.” Knowing that that could be a sign of pancreatic cancer, they had some tests done and found out that Robert had a “fatty liver,” a precursor of cirrhosis of the liver. Robert still felt fine, but his liver was failing.
Although never one to say no to a party, Robert and Kate immediately quit drinking alcohol, a major lifestyle change. He went back to the doctor six months later. The condition had worsened. Then last fall, a colon screening test came back positive. A colonoscopy couldn’t be done at that time, but Robert was admitted to the hospital for a series of other tests. The liver situation had worsened.
In February of this year, they began to research the possibility of a liver transplant. In March, they went to Spokane and were told that Robert’s liver was shutting down. They came back to Missoula for a myriad of tests, to measure the heart, kidney and lung functions in advance of any decision about a transplant. Robert, at 70, was on the older side of typical transplant candidates.
Robert got his colonoscopy but on Sunday, April 4th, he was admitted back into St. Pat’s in Missoula for uncontrolled bleeding. Efforts to stop the bleeding were unsuccessful, and Robert was emergency lifeflighted to Seattle’s Swedish Hospital. Kate flew there to join him. He ended up at the heart campus of Swedish Hospital where he went into respiratory arrest before the bleeding was finally stopped. Now his heart problem had to be dealt with before the liver issue could be addressed. Three stents were put in. Kate says that Robert now has a “bionic heart.”
Robert is now back at home. Following a final evaluation with the transplant team, last Thursday they were overjoyed to hear that Robert will be placed on the transplant list this week. Now they just wait until they receive the news that a donor liver has been found and they will have to be ready to fly to Seattle for the procedure. There will most likely be a two-week hospital stay followed by about a four-week stay somewhere close to the hospital.
Robert and Kate met in 1980 while Kate was attending the University of Montana. Robert was living on the historic Stevensville farmstead his family bought in 1976, where the couple still lives today. They married in 1984 and opened 1888 Metal Arts in 1989 with the late Dale Walker. They ran the business as a jewelry store and gallery for many years. They bought the historic downtown building at the corner of E. 2nd and Main in Stevensville and eventually changed the name of the business to Lutzenhiser Jewelry. The gallery side of the business closed down in 2007, when Robert and Kate mostly went into production casting, making silver parts like conchos, buckles and crimps for other jewelers and artisans. “We could build smaller batches at competitive pricing,” said Kate, keeping the work local instead of out of the country.
Kate says Covid put a damper on everything except their online sales, which did well during the pandemic. But now she has shut that down, as well as their shop work. Kate is directing all her attention to taking care of Robert. “I’m so glad that I can be here to take care of Robert,” she said.
Friends of Robert and Kate, headed up by Mariane Maynard and Gretchen Langton, are organizing a “Party in the Park for Bob” that will take place on First Friday, June 4th from 5 to 9 p.m. at Lewis & Clark Park in Stevensville. There will be music, food vendors, beer and wine, and a live auction at 6 p.m. Music will be provided by local favorites Andre Floyd, Bitterroot Jug Band and Shane Clouse. Everyone is welcome. All the proceeds will go to help Kate and Robert with expenses related to the liver transplant, like travel, rent and food while staying in Seattle. Although much of the medical costs are covered by Medicare and their supplemental insurance, there will be many expenses that are not covered. Everything will help, especially since they aren’t able to work, and won’t be able to for some time.
Kate and Robert are overwhelmed by the support they are receiving from the community, not something they would ever ask for. “My dad used to say, ‘if you don’t know what to say, you just say, thank you!’” said Kate. They also hope that “on the other side” of the transplant they will be doing First Fridays again. “We want to keep it going around and coming around.”
And, Kate reminds everyone, please be an organ donor.