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Dad Deals With Disease

Wed., April 1, 1998

Lee Wheeler’s three sons had every reason to consider him a tower of strength. He coached their Little League and junior tackle football teams. At his fitness club, he shaped people up and slimmed them down.

So the boys were frightened the January morning Lee couldn’t even tie his shoes.

He’d told them he had scleroderma, a mysterious autoimmune disease with no apparent cause or cure. But the name meant little to the boys until the morning Lee could hardly move.

“We told the boys God would take care of me and we encouraged them to ask questions,” Lee says. “We’re always trying to draw them out.”

Lee, who is 39, noticed last October that his joints ached. He owns and operates North Idaho Fitness, where workouts begin at 5 a.m. As fall turned to winter, Lee found it harder and harder to get out of bed.

He blamed his dwindling energy on a virus and finally went for help. The diagnosis was staggering.

With scleroderma, scar tissue forms in the skin and organs, hardening them. In its worst form, the disease is deadly. But in many cases, it’s manageable. It strikes women four times more often than men.

Lee went straight to the Internet where he found dismal stories about people who had died from scleroderma. He began to look carefully at his life.

He had turned to God years ago when his marriage soured and life hit a low point. Lee stuck with God, remarried his wife a few years later and, with his family, left California for Coeur d’Alene.

A committed Christian now, he turned to God for support again - and to a good diet.

Lee eliminated meat, dairy products, sugar, alcohol and caffeine from his menu. He drinks carrot juice and barley greens. At the very least, the diet will strengthen him and thus help his immune system, he says.

He’s cut back his 14-hour work days when he can. Recent remodeling at North Idaho Fitness stole his important rest time. Lee knows he has to learn to rest.

Medication reduces the symptoms so he can work and play with his boys and two baby girls. The only visible sign that all is not right with him is his hands, which are swollen to the size of baseball mitts.

Still, the former football player’s activity schedule is drastically reduced.

“I’m learning that I have to enjoy myself more as far as family goes and stop being so driven,” he says. “Over the years, you forget how to play. I want that back.”


If the Aryans march in downtown Coeur d’Alene in July, Post Falls’ Diana Penrosa suggests the following counterattack. Enlarge Bill McFadden’s graphic pictures of the concentration camp at Hurlach and post them in store windows and on placards.

Remember Bill, the Coeur d’Alene veteran who stumbled upon a Nazi death camp during World War II? He wants the public to remember what the Nazis did. Maybe Diana is on to something.

St. Urho’s Day

OK, I know I’m way late wishing everyone a happy St. Urho’s Day and I’m appropriately embarrassed. Tamarack Ridge’s Ruth Hussa let me know she planned to wear a ribbon March 16 for St. Urho’s Day, a Finnish-born person’s answer to St. Patrick’s Day.

Supposedly, the fictitious St. Urho chased all the grasshoppers from Finland because they were eating the grape crop. But Ruth says, “I have been in Finland a number of times and have never seen grasshoppers or grapes.”

Still, she celebrates like a good North Idaho Finn. Mark your calendars now for next year.

What holiday brings out the best in your community? Think festive for Cynthia Taggart, “Close to Home,” 608 Northwest Blvd., Suite 200, Coeur d’Alene, ID, 83814; FAX to 765-7149; call 765-7128; or e-mail to

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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