By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer
Most couples must spend years together to really know the stuff their relationship is made of. Chris Hill and his fiancee, Kylie Winkelman, are not yet married, but they already know what it is like to test the bonds of their commitment.
The two were engaged last February, after being reunited a year and a half earlier. They have known each other for almost a decade and previously dated for four years. However, their lives at the time pulled them apart and they stopped seeing each other. Their reunion several years later, however, proved to be perfect timing and they were soon engaged.
Hill has been an electrician for 16 years. He travels to different locations and has worked all over the United States, from Maine to California. He moved to North Dakota in September and currently works in the natural gas industry in McKenzie County. He is coming back from a three-month leave of absence that has changed his life.
His previous job took him to Rock Springs, Wyo. His fiancee moved there as well to stay close to Hill and worked at Family Dollar. They spent their time working and trying out new family recipes for dinner.
“Life was perfect,” relates Winkelman. “I was three days away from having my sister fly out to pack up my van to head home to plan our wedding.”
But instead of heading home to plan their big day, the couple began a very different journey, one that would truly test them.
A few days before her sister’s arrival, Winkelman started to notice a strange tingling in her face. Things changed drastically, however, when the entire right side of her face went numb. She went to the emergency room, where doctors told her she had an aneurysm and would need to come back for some more tests in a few days.
Back in the hospital for more tests, Winkelman could tell by the reactions of the medical technicians that there was something wrong.
“We got a call before we even got home,” says Winkelman. “They said we would have to go out of state for treatment because there was no one in Wyoming who could read the MRI results.”
Since the care she needed was not available in Rock Springs, they immediately went to seek treatment in California. Both Hill and Winkelman are both originally from the Orange, Calif. area and decided it would be best to move Winkelman back to be with family for treatment.
It was there that they learned that the MRI results showed a large tumor behind her eye and beneath her brain. The tumor was damaging Winkelman’s nervous system. The tumor, though benign, was pushing on the nerves that provide feeling to her face and had pinched them completely.
“It was scary,” describes Hill. “I tried to go back to work, but after two weeks I was back. I dropped work at the drop of a hat to be with her.”
The couple moved in with Winkelman’s parents in Las Vegas, Nev. and commuted to a treatment center in California, a center that Winkelman was already familiar with.
In her early 20s, Winkelman won a fight against Hodgkin’s. She was treated at the same facility that she was now at for her brain tumor. But despite their familiarity, it took three months to complete the needed surgery.
Getting insurance coverage at this point was incredibly trying. After denials and fraudulent coverage, hope came through a piece of new legislation that would fund Winkelman’s need.
“By the grace of God, she was able to get pre-existing condition insurance,” says Hill. “I know a lot of people don’t like Obamacare, but this piece of it at least is saving lives.”
During all the waiting, Winkelman’s numbness continued. She finally underwent surgery about three months ago. Thankfully, it was a complete success and Winkelman is on the road to recovery.
“It will take six months to a year to see how the nerves are able to repair,” explains Hill. “And she will need to get checked every three to six months to make sure it doesn’t come back.”
Once Winkelman was well on her way to recovery, Hill decided it was time to go back to work. Hill’s company was happy to give him his job back and sent him to McKenzie County.
So far McKenzie County has been an easy transition for Hill. He has found the best part to be Glory of the Lord Family Ministries Church.
“They didn’t treat me like an outsider. The people took me in with open arms and made me feel right at home,” relates Hill.
Pastor Barbara Becker describes Hill’s inclusion at Glory of the Lord as, “instant family.” “It’s always great to see people with a desire to know more about the Lord. And he has that,” says Pastor Becker.
Winkelman is still with her parents in Las Vegas and has more recovering to do. She still has numbness in her face and gets headaches.
“What’s going to heal me now is being with my husband, I hate that he’s not with me now. I miss him every second of the day,” says Winkelman. Even though the couple has yet to get married, Winkelman affectionately refers to Hill as her husband. “I have a ring on my finger, and you’d have to cut off my finger to get it off.”
Hill would like her to move here, but admits that his housing “isn’t ideal.” Winkelman will be visiting Hill at the end of December to share Christmas, Hill’s birthday and hopefully find housing to accommodate them and their three dogs.
Hill says, “My goal is to have my soon-to-be-wife back on the road with me in January. We plan to travel and save money for our wedding and eventually settle in a small town.”
Winkelman too says, “My ultimate dream is to get married to the man I’ve loved for 12 years. He just loves me and takes care of me. He is my best friend.”
It is heartwarming to know a couple with such dedication and compassion are some of the new faces among us. Hill, and hopefully, soon his fiancee as well, are just another example of those new people enriching McKenzie County. Wishing you a speedy recovery and joy in your upcoming marriage!
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