State Fair volunteer struggles after fall

Posted: Monday, August 25, 2008

ANCHORAGE - A Palmer man with a long history of volunteering at the Alaska State Fair is struggling to recover from an injury suffered while replacing poles used in the fair's lumberjack show.

Joel Stefanski fell 21 feet Aug. 2, shattering his hip and pelvis. He is in Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he's endured several surgeries to repair his bones.

Stefanski is a veteran of climbing. He's the owner of Valley Tree Services, and for the past 19 years, a clearing foreman for Matanuska Electric Association.

He was injured when the base of the pole he was climbing snapped and he plummeted to the ground.

Three weeks after the accident, as thousands poured into the fair over the weekend, he's still not out of the woods, his wife, Mindy, said from Seattle.

He has lost 30 pounds and surgeons have held off repairing his hip due to a tear in a vein in his pelvis. In one surgery, Joel bled so much his body lost 39 pints of blood. Doctors want to avoid causing additional bleeding and are weighing the risks of another surgery, his wife said.

"If they're not able to do surgery to finish the repair, the option is to leave him in traction, and he'd have to deal with however the bones heal," Mindy said.

Doctors have told her it can take a month or two for the vein to heal on its own. If the hip is not repaired, Stefanski may have mobility issues due to improperly fused bones.

Mindy Stefanski has been chronicling the saga since the beginning on, a nonprofit Web site for families in crisis. Her blog has attracted nearly 5,000 hits. Mindy said she has heard from people she's never met who say they're praying for her husband.

"We definitely feel it; it's so appreciated," she said.

She worries about the financial toll the accident has taken.

The fair will help. It's donating $2 for every daily admission between 2 and 10 p.m. Tuesday to the Joel Stefanski Fund.

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