Waiting with Bonnie Jean Schmidt

— Courtesy of Dennis Schmidt

Bonnie Schmidt, who grew up riding horses on her parents’ farm in Westerlo, holds the reins atop her horse, Sonnet, in the front yard of her brother’s home.

— Courtesy of Dennis Schmidt

Newlywed in the new century: Bonnie Schmidt, right, grasps the arm of Dennis Schmidt on their wedding day, Sept. 23, 2000. 

HILLTOWNS — When Bonnie Schmidt met her husband, Dennis, they were alternating shifts as home health aids, taking care of a quadriplegic man in Voorheesville. Now, the two have quit their jobs and are in the process of foreclosing their Berne home as the long list of Mrs. Schmidt’s medical complications has worsened.

On Oct. 5, a benefit concert will be held to help ease the burden of medical bills associated with Mrs. Schmidt’s disease that has left her liver scarred.

Friends and neighbors who are members of local rock bands are playing at the concert, where there will be roast pork dinners and prizes for drawings.

“It’s not all about the money. It’s about getting friends and family together to show their support,” said Dennis Schmidt, who stopped working in health-care for a job in construction amid the strain of seeing people die.

Mr. Schmidt hasn’t worked for two-and-a-half years, attending to his wife at home as she is in and out of the hospital, where he spends everyday. She has been in St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany for the past two weeks.

“I won’t let them talk without me being here,” said Mr. Schmidt. “I’m her health-care proxy. I’m her soul.”

Mrs. Schmidt has primary biliary cirrhosis; inflammation in her liver has damaged the bile ducts so that bile cannot drain, causing scar tissue. Bile is needed to break down nutrients, but destructive when it stays in the liver. Doctors can’t explain the disease’s cause, says Mr. Schmidt, but, if his wife had a successful liver transplant, she would be able to leave the hospital and gain some function.

Because Mrs. Schmidt’s kidneys sometimes work, her husband said, her doctors don’t see a need for dialysis, which would filter the toxins and excess fluid from her blood.

Mrs. Schmidt would rather be in a saddle than in a hospital bed.

Schmidt grew up riding horses on a farm in Westerlo. In Berne, she became intimately familiar with the trails of Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area near her home on Ravine Road. A 1974 graduate of Berne-Knox, Mrs. Schmidt worked as a home health aid until her sickness developed and she took a job at a grocery-store bakery. She has been diagnosed with the disease for more than two decades.

Co-payments and medication can cost an average of $600 each month, says Mr. Schmidt, and the couple rents a car to make monthly trips to a transplant center in Boston. Doctors there evaluate Mrs. Schmidt’s condition and her chances of survival during or without transplant surgery. Mr. Schmidt said they have been seeking a healthy liver for two years. If she doesn’t get one soon, he said, doctors estimate she has a year left to live.

“They keep telling us she ain’t sick enough because it goes by her MELD score,” said Schmidt. The Model for End-stage Liver Disease score is used in determining who among the many ill patients gets a donated liver. The MELD score threshold varies by blood type and region. Schmidt’s score is 27. “It has to be at least a 30 before they even start looking for a liver,” said Schmidt.

Her other health problems are related to the cirrhosis — including scleroderma, severe pulmonary hypertension, chronic kidney failure, and rheumatoid arthritis — and may be helped by a healthy liver, but would likely continue.

“When she was on a horse, that’s when she was most free,” said Schmidt.


From 1 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5, the Benefit for Bonnie concert will be held at the Shell Inn on Route 85 in Westerlo. Admission is $10 and includes a roast pork dinner. The High Peaks Band, Peckham Hollow Project, Sir Eeel, Boink!, and Johnny Crammond Band will perform.  A cash bar, games of horseshoes and pool, and prizes for drawings will be available.

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