Ahwatukee starts a new year and a new decade today, dramatically altered by some of the big changes that occurred in the last 10 years.
There’s a new freeway in town, but two fewer golf courses. New subdivisions sprung up in the western part of the community while older ones grappled with decaying streets and rusting light poles. Red, White and Boom! went boom and Ahwatukee’s legislative district went blue. As schools grappled Arizona’s efforts to assess their performance, students’ mental health and safety rose to the forefront.
And 2019 for many Ahwatukee residents brought major changes that AFN reported as they prepared for them.
What follows is a return visit to five of those residents.
Ed Kriesel was diagnosed in 2008 with Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic liver and lung disorder, leaving him only one option if he wanted to continue living: a lung transplant.
He was a fit father of two adult children, and following his diagnosis, began waiting for a donor.
On April 20 – his daughter Brianna’s birthday – Kriesel underwent a bi-lateral lung transplant. It was successful.
“It’s been eight months now and I’m still getting used to things and discovering what I can and can’t do, should and shouldn’t do,” he said.
“I know it’s relatively early in the ‘process’ and most people say I need to give it a year to really adjust and feel normal – or my ‘new normal.’”
“So far, the new lungs are still doing well. I had a fungal infection a few months ago and ended up with a three-day hospital stay. At my last appointment, the doctor said the infection is completely gone and the lungs are looking and doing great. My lung function, or capacity, went from a pre-transplant level of about 23 percent to my current level of 92 percent!
“There are times when it gets frustrating because of some of the ‘limitations’ and not feeling great a lot of the days.Then I step back and think of the things I CAN do now I couldn’t eight months ago – like climb a flight of stairs, ride a bike, carry groceries.”
He thinks often of the donor “and what the donor’s family must be going through.”
At that point, he said, “the pity party is over. I’ve been given the greatest Christmas gift ever and feel really blessed to have a second chance.”
On Oct. 12, Ashley Dellosa, a mother of two and professional educator, competed in the 140.6-mile Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii – a one-day endurance competition that included swimming, biking and running.
She was one of only 14 women of the 726 competitors in the Ironman Arizona 2018 who qualified for a berth in Hawaii.
“The island was beautiful and everything about the race was challenging, yet amazing,” said Dellorsa, who was 14th in her 30-34 age group.
“Since my husband and I never took a honeymoon, this kind of acted like it. We’re both workaholics so we just never got around to it. Six weeks after Hawaii, I competed in Ironman Arizona again where I was second in my age group and the third amateur female. I’m still deciding what’s next but next month my good friend Taylor Newgaard (an Ahwatukee native) and I are raising money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital – my mom’s favorite charity – through running the Rock and Roll half marathon.”
Cassie Gannis, 28, was on her way to the inaugural W Series – a women-only race car series designed to provide women opportunities to gain experience to advance to Formula 1 racing.
The 5-foot 8-inch Desert Vista High School Class of 2009 alum is a NASCAR Super Late Model racer and team owner of Cassie Gannis Racing.
She also is a conqueror of a different sort: she overcame scoliosis as a child and young teen, underwent multiple surgeries and eventually had two titanium rods inserted in her back.
She is involved with the Scoliosis Research Society to promote awareness, and with #SheIsWithoutLimits encouraging girls in racing.
“I was so fortunate to be selected to compete for a spot in the W Series,” she said. “I’d never been to Europe, never raced on ice and snow, never raced road courses or raced Indy type cars.
“Although my resume got me in the door, I had a lot to learn. I did my best and but unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the next round though I scored very high in reaction time and ability to be coached. I learned a lot about myself and about driving.
“I now have female driving friends from all over the world. It was wonderful to be in an environment of support.”
During “down” season for NASCAR, Gannis and her team are rebuilding her NASCAR Super Late Model for 2020.
“We had a decent season and had quite a few top fives,” she said, “but we weren’t able to get a championship this season. Next year we are going to make a run for it after getting the engine rebuilt.”
Cars haven’t been her only passion.
“This year I got to do some continuing education in Mexico. For two weeks in Puerto Aventuras, I got to learn about the anatomy and physiology of various marine animals. It has been a passion of mine to continue my studies as a vet tech.
“Next year I will continue to race my NASCAR Super Late Model and hope to get a ride in the NASCAR Gander Truck Series.”
Leilani ‘Lani’ Nish
In June, Desert Vista High School senior Leilani “Lani” Nish was one of 29 teens vying for the Miss Arizona’s Outstanding Teen 2019 crown, a competition held in tandem with the official state preliminary to the 93rd Miss America 2020 competition. It was her first foray into pageants.
Though she didn’t make the top 10 finalists, her talent performance of the Native American “Fancy Shawl” dance in full, hand-made tribal regalia and headpiece brought great praise.
“The Miss Arizona Outstanding Teen Competition was a unique and wonderful experience,” Lani said. “My happiest moment was sharing a part of my culture with the audience. I had the opportunity to express a very important part of me, where I come from and performing on stage was my proudest moment in life.
“I was so happy for the support and cheers from the organization and our amazing audience. It was such an exciting week especially with my titleholder sisters I competed with,” she said.
“I definitely would consider competing again, not only for the fun experience but for more opportunities in working with my community and learning more skills within the organization. For now, I plan to focus on finishing my last year in high school, getting my diploma and finding the right school for me after high school.”
The Zimbelmann Family
The Zimbelmann family was new to Ahwatukee when a pancreatic tumor, thought to have been in remission, reappeared after their March 2018 move from Portland.
An 11-year Army veteran, Steve Zimbelmann lost the battle of his life Oct. 26. His wife Nancy Zimbelman, an R.N. home health care nurse and their 6-year-old son Jacob ponder their next step after the devastating loss.
“Steve was planning to get on another clinical trial drug and they were going to do this really intense study of the RNA/DNA of his tumor,” she said. He developed a blood clot in his neck and was put on an injectable blood thinner. He was also put on steroids to help with his activity level and increase his appetite.
“Unfortunately, that steroid in particular was not good for the pancreas or pancreatic cancer and it shut down his adrenal glands, which produce a lot of our hormones.
“He ended up hospitalized for two weeks due to the injuries of the steroid. He became an insulin-dependent diabetic, lost the ability to walk and sit up in bed.”
“After the two consecutive hospital stays, he was just mentally and physically destroyed and lost his will to keep fighting. So, one morning he was just so weak and tired he fell and we went back to Mayo Clinic. Sitting in the ER we both agreed it was time to go on hospice.
“Jacob and I are not well. Jacob just turned 6. He is grieving and misses his dad. He talks about dying every day. I have had to completely take over all of the financial tasks plus raise a child and grieve.
“We have our house up for sale and it’s hurting Jacob so much. He doesn’t want to move. I suppose death is part of living but I can’t help to feel angry and ask the question ‘Why Steve?’ He had so much going for him. I’m angry every day.
“For now, we’re planning to stay so Jacob can finish out his school year at Cerritos. We really do love Ahwatukee and have received so much love and support from the school and community, it makes it hard to leave. I think Ahwatukee will be our forever home.
“Things are starting to get better little by little. We’re going to a grief support group called New Song through Hospice of the Valley. We chose Hospice of the Valley and they were amazing to the very end. Hopefully, we will be back on our feet by mid-year.”