Local veteran doesn’t let rare infection get in the way of legion work


Mary and Lane Stunkel pose for a picture before Lane’s recent hospitalization. Lane’s unexpected health issues aren’t stopping him from participating in American Legion activities despite being hospital-bound. (photo courtesy of Mike Ash)

“He has to be the most dedicated person I have ever met when it comes to the American Legion,” says Legionnaire Deon Ford of Lane Stunkel, a man who isn’t letting a painful and rare bacterial infection stop him from serving American Legion Post 577 with full force. 

For the past several years, Lane has made the Arcade-Phalen American Legion post his priority, along with his New Brighton sales job. Legionnaires say no matter how busy life gets, Lane is always there for fellow veterans in District 4 — and recent health complications aren’t changing that fact. 

In late June, Lane fell in his Payne-Phalen home while making breakfast. When his family convinced him to go to the hospital nearly two weeks after the fall, doctors said he was lucky he didn’t come in any later. What Lane thought was a broken tailbone turned out to be something much more serious: necrotizing fasciitis and the sepsis that came with it.

Necrotizing fasciitis is a form of gangrene that rapidly spreads, inflaming and killing the body’s tissues. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says up to a third of people die from it. Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to such an infection, triggering a chain of abnormal body reactions. 

A splinter of a reed plant made its way into Lane’s bloodstream when he fell, prompting the infection. Doctors at Bethesda Hospital, where Lane is currently being treated, say the splinter could have been in his muscle tissue for years undetected. 

“Maybe they’ll put it in the medical journal because it’s so bizarre,” joked Mike Ash, Lane’s coworker at the post.

Mary Stunkel, Lane’s wife, says has “gaping holes” in his body, has at least two upcoming surgeries, and no known hospital release date. But despite all this, Lane has no plans to withdraw from his American Legion duties.

“He finds time for people,” Mary says of his work in the district, which covers nearly all of Ramsey County.

He calls in for monthly meetings and still interacts with the post via email, engaging in as many regular-post duties as he can. Friends say he lies in his hospital bed messaging people, talking on the phone, giving advice and being part of the decision-making process. 

“Other than perhaps when he’s been unconscious, he’s bending over backwards to help the Legion in every way possible,” Ford says.

Lane had served as the District 4 commander until the term ended in July.

“It’s definitely different without Lane being present, but he’s right there for any questions that anyone has,” Legionnaire and past commander Bud Nasby says, noting his continued presence even while at the hospital. 

 

Everyone’s got his back

Lane’s health issues started back in 2019 when he underwent surgery for intestinal issues. Mary says he was hospitalized for one week, was out of work for over a month, and used all of his paid time off and vacation — something he was saving for a future knee and hip replacement.

“Twice in less than six months, I’ve been told that my husband is lucky that he even got in,” Mary says, adding the doctors said if he hadn’t gotten medical attention when he did, he may not have made it.

Mary is also dealing with the financial burden of her husband’s hospitalization. She says Lane’s employer, Del-comm, has been “really super” about accommodating Lane, helping out with referrals and finding old commissions that hadn’t been cashed out. Since the company doesn’t have short-term disability, Mary says Del-comm is helping her set up his long-term disability beginning in September. 

Mary says she’s been picking up extra shifts at the casino to pay the bills.

Jenny Nelson, North St. Paul American Legion’s auxiliary president, says her family went through a similar situation about 13 years ago. She says raising funds helped keep their finances afloat before her son could return to work. When she heard about the Stunkels, she knew just how to help.

“The American Legion Auxilary’s main focus is to always help veterans. When I heard what happened, I knew we needed to act fast. I couldn’t wait for the process of going through the usual steps to raise funds. When folks are hospitalized they don’t always have income— period,” she says. 

With that, Nelson started a GoFundMe for the Stunkels which has raised over $1,300 so far.

“I just see him as a kind of a person that’s selfless and should be recognized by the community,” Nelson said. “I don’t think there’s enough of that.”

“I will tell you that Lane is just — as a person, not just as a Legion member — he is incredible,” Ford said. “He cares about everybody. He has dedicated his life to serving veterans.”

This commitment is obvious — even now, as he finds strength to serve amid twice daily wound dressing changes, pain medication and the uncertainty of his health.

“I’m sure that as soon as he’s able, he’ll be back,” Nasby says.

In the meantime, Mary says Lane has his good and bad days, and everyone is hopeful. One of the major infections is already healing and he is encouraged by visiting grandchildren that make him smile.

Legion members say when they think of Post 577, they can’t help but think of Lane. For the past eight or so years, his presence and involvement has become a staple. 

“When somebody walks through the door, he greets them. He welcomes them. He listens to them and he remembers everybody,” Ford said. “And the next time they walk in, he knows who they are.”

Those at the Legion certainly know who Lane is— and they can’t wait for him to walk through those same doors himself soon.

For those who wish to donate the Stunkels’ fundraiser, go to www.gofundme.com and search “Lane Stunkel.”

–Amy Felegy can be reached at afelegy@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815.

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