Cookies of love

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 22, 2004

By Leah Lohse, Tribune feature writer

Vallie Martin can only bake 24 cookies at a time, so she can’t stray too far from the kitchen of her Northwood, Iowa, home. Her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Abby, is sleeping nearby.

After a recent Farmers Market and a morning full of baking, the little girl is worn out.

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Vallie doesn’t seem to mind. Now, she won’t have to worry about bottles of spilled vanilla or poke marks in the brownies. But she appreciates Abby’s attempts to help.

&uot;She tries to help. She sees me mixing so I give her an empty bowl and a wooden spoon,&uot; Vallie said. &uot;Sometimes I’ll let her put the chocolate stars into the peanut butter blossoms. Sometimes she’ll be good with the peanut butter blossoms, and sometimes she pushes them in too far.&uot;

Abby’s too young to understand why mom bakes so much. Two days a week, Martin wakes up at 8 a.m. to begin baking her 19 varieties of cookies, as well as bars, candies, and breads. On those nights, the oven isn’t turned off until 2:30 a.m.

&uot;My main business is cookies,&uot; she said. &uot;I make 3,000 cookies a week.&uot;

In previous years, Vallie baked goods for the Farmers Market in Mason City and Albert Lea. She had purchased a large convection oven, mixer, and other cooking supplies in order to bake in large quantities. But Vallie hadn’t planned to do the Farmers Market this year.

Abby was born with a hole in her heart and after an appointment with Mayo Clinic Cardiologist Dr. Donald Hagler, Vallie and her husband, B.J. Martin, were told Abby would need to undergo bypass surgery this June. Since the procedure would require a lengthy three-month recovery time, Vallie sold her equipment and planned to take care of Abby after the surgery.

&uot;If she has to have bypass, my life will be taking care of her until she is fully recovered,&uot; Vallie said.

Then Dr. Hagler told the Martins about a new procedure that would not require bypass surgery.

The procedure involves inserting a catheter into a large vein in the leg, which is guided through the vein to the heart.

An amplatz device is advanced through the catheter to the heart. Once the amplatz is in position, it opens like a small umbrella, plugging the hole. The heart tissue will eventually grow over it and will become part of the heart. Benefits of the new procedure include correcting the defect without open-heart surgery, no scarring, a shorter hospital stay, recovery time and reduced costs.

The procedure, however, is not FDA approved. Phase I of clinical trials has just been completed and the results are positive, said Dr. Hagler.

&uot;They’ve already shown that it works, and it’s safe to be used,&uot; Hagler said. &uot;It will be safer than surgery in some patients.&uot;

After he explained the new procedure, the Martins agreed to put bypass surgery on hold. So Vallie started baking, hoping the money she raised would help pay for the new procedure.

Vallie said the family’s insurance would not cover 100 percent of the costs associated with the procedure.

&uot;Our health insurance is not as good as we thought,&uot; Martin said. &uot;We pay 20 percent of every estimated bill. My dad’s quadruple bypass came to over $100,000. Twenty percent of $100,000 &045;

that will hurt anybody. Were just normal people. We don’t have money sitting around.&uot;

Instead of worrying, Martin bakes.

Even though the summer has not afforded her much rest or free time, Martin keeps an upbeat attitude.

&uot;I think she’s pretty positive. I think she’s a wonderful person. She’s just a sweetie,&uot; said longtime customer Bonita Moeller. &uot;She’s doing a wonderful service to our community providing us with some of the things we don’t have time to do. I couldn’t sing her praises high enough.&uot;

Vallie said she has been able to remain positive for two reasons &045; her customers and her faith.

&uot;I’ve had customers that have very generously donated some money. Out of the blue they just come up and open their hearts,&uot; she said. &uot;If we didn’t have our faith, we couldn’t go though this. We’re one of those who believe that if God’s on our side we can keep going.&uot;

But Martin said she isn’t looking for charity. She’s asking for prayer.

&uot;We’re not the only sad case out there,&uot; Vallie said. &uot;What means the world to us is that people are praying for our little girl.&uot;