MASON CITY – As a newspaper photographer for more than 35 years, Jeff Heinz knows a good story when he sees it.
A well-known face at all types of local news events — from police calls to prep sports, presidential visits to hometown parades — he retired from the Globe Gazette in 2015.
But Heinz, 66, never thought he'd become a storyteller after his last byline, that is, not until a diagnosis of a rare disease — male breast cancer.
A post on Facebook last January from a longtime friend may have saved his life.
“We've known Jodi (Suntken) for years and she had a post on Facebook about the warning signs of breast cancer,” Heinz said. His wife wife, Brenda, a retired nurse, cared for Suntken of Mason City when she was born prematurely 47 years ago. In recent years, the two worked together at Family Connections, a Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa program that provides assistance to pregnant women and parenting families.
The Facebook post from Suntken, a breast cancer survivor and advocate for breast cancer screenings, shared a Worldwide Breast Cancer awareness campaign named “Know Your Lemons.” The campaign included a poster with lemons nestled in an egg carton with each lemon depicting a physical abnormality that could indicate breast cancer.
Heinz had noticed a change in his chest area — an inverted nipple. He showed it to his family physician, Dr. David Ruen, at a scheduled checkup later in January. Ruen examined the area and felt a lump.
So began Heinz' breast cancer story and the need to speak out about a cancer that will affect not only his life, but those of his closest family members. His diagnosis is especially important to his two brothers and three sons because Heinz has the inherited breast cancer gene BRCA2. Men as well as women can carry the breast cancer gene. “That was a shocker,” Heinz said. “I want men to be aware of the gene.”
Heinz' mother, Jean, of Mason City had breast cancer but she doesn't carry the gene, he said. There are few close relatives on his deceased father Paul's side.
Heinz' surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Rowe, ordered the genetic testing, said Jennifer Castle, clinical nurse specialist at Mercy Cancer Center, who works with patients on genetic risk assessment and post-test counseling.
“This case (Heinz) was complicated,” she said. Because he has the breast cancer gene, Heinz' brothers and sons have a 50 percent chance of also having the mutation, Castle said. A male breast cancer diagnosis is “off the radar” for families, Castle said.
Heinz' first weeks after diagnosis were filled with blood tests, mammogram, ultrasound and needle biopsy.
“I knew when the ultrasound technician stopped for a moment and I looked up and saw tears in her eyes, it wasn't good,” Heinz said.
Heinz said Ruen told him he was his first patient with male breast cancer in more than 30 years of practice. “We were blindsided,” said Brenda Heinz. “It's something we would not have imagined.”
Test results concluded the breast cancer was invasive ductal carcinoma early Stage 2 with a four-centimeter tumor.
On Feb. 20 Heinz underwent a left breast simple mastectomy. After recovery from surgery, he began a regimen of chemotherapy April into June, which he did not complete due to adverse side effects. After a rest from chemo, Heinz began 33 days of radiation therapy on Aug. 2.
Brenda Heinz had worked mostly as a pediatric nurse so she had little experience with breast cancer. Many weeks this past spring and summer were “full of sitting, waiting, wondering,” she said. One of her main supportive roles was to make sure her husband got the nutrition he needed even when food wasn't appetizing.
Heinz' future involves frequent checkups with oncologists and continued exercises to regain strength in his arm. He will also be on the drug tamoxifen for five years since his cancer is estrogen-fed.
Heinz' brothers and sons have been encouraged to undergo genetic testing since a positive marker could put them or their children — boys and girls — at a higher risk for breast cancer.
Men who have had mothers or sisters with breast cancer, especially if those females have the genetic mutation, are at higher risk for breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Heinz credits the physicians and staff of Mercy North Iowa and the Mercy Cancer Center, including radiation oncologist Dr. Michael Marks and medical oncologist Dr. Joginder Singh, for helping him and his family through the difficult diagnosis and treatment.
He also relied on Shari Showalter, oncology nurse manager and breast health specialist at Mercy Cancer Center.
“Shari was an angel,” Heinz said, who said Showalter personally attended many of his medical appointments.
Heinz admits he fought depression and was counseled on that aspect of the disease, too.
His family, friends and a golden retriever named Charlie boosted his spirits on those tough days.
Since the completion of radiation in September, Heinz finds his strength returning day by day.
This fall has him working in his backyard pond, planting more swamp milkweed and black-eyed Susans, taking photos of the birds at his many feeders and feeling thankful.
“Sitting in the doctors' offices, all the posters show only women,” he said. “My goal from day one was to get out information that men need to be aware of this cancer. I just had to do it.”
MASON CITY | Pat McGarvey, a former city administrator, says the city should own the proposed new ice arena and has not asked enough financial commitment from the developer in the proposed Gatehouse hotel deal.
In both situations, the city is giving too much away and for those reasons he will vote "no" on Nov. 7 on the ballot issues on those two projects, he said.
McGarvey, 75, grew up in Mason City and worked in city government for nearly 40 years, including 11 years as city administrator in Austin, Minnesota, and one year as interim city administrator in Mason City prior to the hiring of now former city administrator Brent Trout.
In an apparent response to the "Mason City Says Yes" campaign, McGarvey, who now spends much of his time in California, has created a "Vote No Mason City" website, votenomc.info.
He told The Globe Gazette he is not against the hockey arena or the hotel but is opposed to the way both deals are structured.
"I love Mason City. I was born here, I grew up here, I graduated from high school here and one day I will be buried here. I want good things for Mason City," he said.
McGarvey said he would support the ice arena project if the city owned it instead of leasing it, which is pending approval of voters on Nov. 7.
Trout, now city administrator in Topeka, said repeatedly over the past few months it was in the city's best interests to lease it rather than own it so the city could collect taxes on it, because a taxing body cannot tax itself.
The property taxes would be used to pay off the bonds.
But McGarvey calls the city's plan "a scheme to give away millions to avoid a public vote requiring 60 percent approval to borrow millions."
"To do that, they had to make it a private property subject to property tax. The city pays rent via the lease and the arena owner takes the lease money and pays taxes on it."
McGarvey said he would be voting yes if the arena was built and owned by the city. "People paying taxes would own what they are paying for," he said.
"This will be the biggest, finest recreational facility in the history of the city and we're giving it away."
Regarding the hotel, McGarvey said he would vote "yes" if Gatehouse put up more equity. "If they don't, then the city's $4.2 million loan with no payback for 20 years and no interest charge should be secured by an iron-clad, third-party financial institution for the full amount," he said.
Robin Anderson, president of the Mason City Chamber of Commerce, confirmed Friday the Chamber Foundation has agreed to serve as guarantor for the $4.2 million loan.
Chad Schreck, president of the North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corp., said Friday the development agreement requires an investment from the developer of at least 10 percent of the project cost along with financing to complete the project.
He said Gatehouse will put up about 26 percent equity from Gatehouse/investors, 50 percent senior bank loan and the remainder covered by the city's loan.
"This is a pretty similar mix of equity to financing as any other project or buying a home," said Schreck. "Like most hotel projects, Gatehouse is managing an investment group for this, so the 26 percent will be a mix of them and their investors.
"So at least 10 percent of the project has to be Gatehouse with them planning upwards of 26 percent depending on how they build their investor/equity group."
McGarvey points out that Gatehouse has no bank financing yet and no financial investment into the project. By contrast, the city has put up $150,000 so far, which is refundable, and will pay $750,000 in pre-construction costs.
At a City Council meeting last month, Gatehouse representative David Rachie said until the results of the public votes are known, lenders "don't have anything to say 'yes' to" and that is what is delaying the financing.
The River City Renaissance project includes building the hotel, the ice arena/multipurpose center, and a performing arts pavilion. The 106-room hotel, in the south parking lot of Southbridge Mall, would be connected to The Music Man Square via a skywalk.
A ballroom/conference center would be built inside The Music Man Square. To make room for the conference center, the museum will be moved to a structure to be built next to The Music Man Square.
The city has applied for $10 million in state funding through the Iowa Reinvestment Act to leverage the $38 million Renaissance project.
The two ballot issues on Nov. 7 — the lease agreement on the arena and issuance of up to $14 million in bonds for hotel project expenses — must pass in order to get the state funding. Without the state funding, the Renaissance project is dead.
FOREST CITY | The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors will have some tough decisions to make in the coming months, and they’ll likely impact taxpayers.
Two weeks after Ruth Merchant, Winnebago County Public Health administrator, and Julie Sorenson, Public Health financial manager, spoke with the county board about a funding shortfall in their department, the supervisors are realizing it may be part of a county-wide issue.
“I’ll just say this for the record, if we’re in the shape we’re in, it’s time to clean house in 2018 and 2020, and I’m including myself in 2020,” said Supervisor Mike Stensrud.
In a discussion addressing the public health department’s financial woes Oct. 24, County Auditor Karla Weiss notified the supervisors the county’s general basic fund would be depleted by the end of the year, which is why it’s unable to transfer more money to public health than it budgeted.
“Every dollar that we have this year is spoken for,” she said.
Earlier this month, Weiss told supervisors the county’s fund balance was about $628,000 — the lowest it’s been since the 2010-2011 fiscal year when the year ended with about $460,000, according to Winnebago County financial reports dating back to 2008 on the Iowa Department of Management’s online database.
“How does it happen?” said a woman in the audience at the supervisors’ meeting. “Where did it go?”
Weiss explained to the supervisors, and those in attendance, part of the problem was she "overestimated" the starting fund balance for (the 2017-2018 fiscal year) because she used the year-end fund balance from 2015-2016, which was about $2.1 million, to prepare the 2017-2018 budget. By doing so, she didn’t account for the “large amount of budget amendments” approved by the county board during the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
She said the county also spent more on building its new public safety center and renovating its courthouse than it ever thought it would.
After hearing Weiss’ explanation, Stensrud called for a “full-blown audit” to be conducted on Winnebago County. The state auditor's office handles those requests.
“Guys in my district have been asking for me to do this for years and I’ve put them off, but I think it’s time that we did it,” he said.
Because the item wasn’t on the county board’s agenda, County Attorney Adam Sauer suggested the supervisors postpone discussion on the audit until an Oct. 31 meeting, forcing them to address the Public Health department’s funding shortfall.
“I want to find out where every dime has gone to,” Stensrud said. “Until that happens, I don’t know how we can in good conscience make a decision on this.”
Public health’s shortfall is the result of the county board reducing the department’s $243,389 funding request to $50,000 — a $193,000 reduction — during the budgeting process for the 2017-2018 fiscal year without notifying them.
Merchant and Sorenson spoke with the supervisors on Tuesday, Oct. 10, about the item when the department’s July request to transfer funds from the county’s general fund to public health wasn’t answered after the fall tax collection.
At that meeting, Merchant said public health, which is governed by the Board of Health, requested the transfer to “complete jobs it needs to do” at a time when the cost of care is increasing and Medicaid, Medicare and state revenues are declining.
The department, which provides public health and home-care services throughout the county, currently has a fund balance of $58,184 — excluding the $50,000 transfer request — with nine months remaining in the fiscal year.
“Right now, you’re running on a very tight budget,” said Supervisor Terry Durby, who asked to have the public health department’s financial situation on the Oct. 24 agenda in hopes of resolving the issue.
Because of the reduction, the department is trying to determine how — and if — it will meet payroll and provide care to its 117 clients as well as conducting 430 skilled-nursing visits per month, 760 home-care visits per month and other services — many of which are mandated by state and federal laws.
“I’m going to try to find the money,” Stensrud said, adding the department will have to find ways to “pare back” services where it can.
Merchant said the Board of Health discussed at its recent meeting about cutting staff’s overtime expenditures and homemakers’ services for county residents not receiving medical care as well as examining its Healthy Families program, which provides services to families and children from the prenatal to the preschool years.
“I guess to solve what we’re here for today, I’d hope we could find the money to get through this fiscal year,” Stensrud said. “I’m asking you guys to do some house cleaning.”
“Other departments, too, not just public health,” said Deb Jensen, a longtime public health nurse who served in Winnebago and Hancock counties before retiring three years ago. “Every department has to take responsibility for this.”
Stensrud said the discussion about public health and other county departments will have to be had during the budgeting process in January.
When asked what residents can do to help the county address its financial issue and maintain public health services, Supervisor Bill Jensvold said, “Convince everybody that they’re going to have to be happy paying more taxes ... It’s about the only solution there is right now.”
Jensen said she couldn’t imagine why people wouldn’t be OK with it, especially for the services they receive. She, and others, as an informal task force, plan on visiting community groups throughout the county in the coming months to educate residents about the public health department and its importance in serving the entire county.
“There isn’t anyone in this room that doesn’t want to resolve this problem,” Jensvold said. “We never intended to get here. We have to find out how we got here.”