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Couple faces health challenges together

When Don and Katie Dunn exchanged vows on Feb. 12, 2004, at a small ceremony officiated by a justice of the peace, they pledged to love each other in sickness and in health.

And they have.

A few days after the Dunns’ third child, Brendon, was born in December 2008, Katie began experiencing blinding headaches.

A week later, she had a series of seizures and was rushed to Canonsburg Hospital, where doctors discovered she had suffered a near-fatal brain hemorrhage.

She was transported to Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, where doctors put her into a medically-induced coma for 11 days.

On Christmas Eve, doctors slowly reduced the medications so that Katie could regain consciousness.

After Katie returned home, it took three months to regain her health. She still suffers from migraine headaches.

“It was scary. I don’t see me ever living my life without her,” said Don, 35. “She’s my rock.”

The cause of the brain hemorrhage was postpartum preeclampsia, a condition that can cause high blood pressure that can lead to stroke and other complications.

“I missed Christmas with my kids. I missed my son’s first Christmas. I didn’t know what had happened, how long I’d been in a coma, how bad it was. I just wanted to eat,” said Katie, 32, with a laugh.

The health scare, Katie said, impacted her outlook on life.

“You never know when it could be the last time you see the people you love, or when it will be the last time you say, ‘I love you,’” said Katie. “The scariest thing for me was knowing I could have left my kids behind, without me.”

After the hemorrhage, Katie – who had dropped out of high school, but earned her GED after she got married – decided to go back to school. She earned an associate degree in medical assisting from Penn Commercial.

It wasn’t Katie’s last health crisis, though.

In July 2018, on the first day of a family vacation to Virginia Beach, Va., Katie broke her tibia, fibula and ankle when she missed a step while walking down steps carrying a raft.

She was rushed to a Virginia Beach hospital where she underwent emergency surgery, then returned home to begin a grueling recovery that has included three surgeries.

Her last surgery, in August, helped stabilize her ankle, and her ankle and leg still cause discomfort.

Following the accident, Don took a month-and-a-half unpaid leave from work in order to care for Katie and the children.

She was in a wheelchair for about three months.

Don’s mother and sister, along with Katie’s grandmother and others, helped Don care for the couples’ children, prepared meals and cleaned the house after both health crises.

“It has drawn us closer together,” Katie said. “We don’t want to be without each other.”

The couple, who lives in Canonsburg, met when Katie was a 15-year-old heading into her freshman year at Canon-McMillan High School and Don was a 17-year-old heading into his junior year at Washington High School.

Don didn’t have a car, so he walked two hours every day from his home in Wolfdale to Katie’s house to visit her, and Katie and her grandmother would drive him home.

Don, who works in the gas fields, spends up to two weeks at a time away from home at sites in the tri-state area, and Katie, a medical assistant for Allegheny Health Network, handles responsibilities – paying bills, driving the kids to sports practices, running the house – when he’s gone.

The Dunns are the parents of five children: Shawn, 14, Kyleigh, 12, Brendon, 11, Christian, 6, and Bella, 3.

When Don is home, the family spends as much time together as they can – going out to dinner, to the movies, or doing activities at home with each other. They enjoy beach vacations, when Katie remains upright and uninjured.

“It’s the time spent together that matters. It’s what’s important,” said Don.

The couple said their marriage and family are priorities, in part because they both came from broken homes.

Don didn’t meet his father until he was 16; Katie was raised by her grandmother, Mary Iskey.

“Family is so important to us. I don’t want my kids to go through anything like I went through. Family is everything,” said Don.

The Dunns said marriage is filled with challenges – especially when they were married teenagers, still navigating what it meant to be a good partner – but they’ve learned that communication is important in a relationship.

They never go to bed angry, and they talk out issues. They carve out time to be together.

“I tell her all the time, “Never leave ‘I love you’ left unsaid,” Don said.

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Residents of Clare Drive evacuated after South Strabane road collapse

Residents of Clare Drive in South Strabane Township are being evacuated from their homes after part of the road collapsed.

Joe Szczur, district executive for PennDOT’s Engineering District 12, called it an emergency situation. Szczur said local residents discovered the road beginning to give way Monday evening.

Szczur said the collapse was caused by the saturated soil beneath the road.

“It’s all due to this kind of material that exists here. It’s just a silty, sandy type of material,” Szczur said Tuesday morning.

With high amounts of precipitation over the last few weeks, it has caused the soil to soften.

“This is just typical of our neck of the woods. We have 250 locations like this,” Szczur said.

South Strabane fire Chief Scott Reese said there are 12 homes beyond where the road collapsed. Clare Drive is the only way in or out for the residents.

The collapse caused a crack that extends most of the way across the road, which could lead to further damage.

Szczur said they will dig into the embankment on the opposite side of the road to open it up to one lane of traffic.

According to Reese, there is no estimate on when the road may open, and crews are still assessing if the road will stabilize.

Though the road is owned by South Strabane Township, PennDOT is assisting with the repairs, and bringing up equipment from the nearby construction on I-70.

“I directed them up here. Let’s get some stuff up here and let’s help these folks out. It’s just the right thing to do,” Szczur said.

According to Szczur, PennDOT will provide 24/7 monitoring for Clare Drive.

“We’re going to get some of our staff up here ... and just keep a watchful eye on this., because this is a pretty precarious situation,” Szczur said.

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Seal's zeal unwavering when it comes to Invicible Grays

A few days after presenting information to Washington County Commissioners in conjunction with Black History Month, Walter Seal of Carroll Township was reminded of another artifact from his collection.

Seal has a document from Constable John Ross of Tavernestown, Mt. Pleasant Township, who wrote a report to the Court of Common Pleas June 24, 1822, observing among other peacekeeping duties, “no slaves or mulattoes were imported into the county.”

Seal estimated he acquired the nearly 200-year-old report about 20 years ago.

Pennsylvania had passed an act of the Legislature in 1780 to gradually emancipate slaves. But slavery existed in Pennsylvania, by some counts as late as the 1840 census, just 21 years before the start of the start of the Civil War.

Last week, Seal gave Washington County Commissioners information about civil rights leaders from the 1800s, all connected with Seal’s passion, recognition for “The Invincible Grays,” which Seal views as the first all-black unit in the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Seal credited T. Morgan Jones, a fugitive slave from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia who traveled through Maryland and into Somerset County, where he gained an education. In 1855, Jones found employment on steamboats that plied the Monongahela River.

When the Civil War broke out, he formed a company of black freedmen who were rejected from serving in the Union Army. After the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the race-based edict was altered. Jones died “from wounds he received while leading a charge with his men of the 127th U.S. Colored Troops.

“He lingered until Nov. 15, 1866, and died in the arms of his protegé, William Hilton Catlin,” Seal said.

Catlin advocated that then-Gov. John W. Geary and his successor, John F. Hartranft, form a company of all African-American men for militia duty. On Sept. 8, 1871, the Keystone Guard was formed. The City of Monongahela had one unit for black men and another for white men.

First Lt. Mark Hilton, whom Seal believes may have been the brother-in-law of William Hilton Catlin, later resigned from his leadership position and Second Lt. William H. Jones was promoted to first lieutenant. Sgt. Joseph R. Griffey, whom Seal identified as an ancestor of former Major League Baseball players Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr., was elected second lieutenant.

During the Great Railroad strike of 1877, members of both companies guarded the Pennsylvania Railroad depot in Monongahela and were told to continue their duty through the night.

“Jones was put in command of both sets of troops,” Seal said, which may have been a first for a black officer being placed in charge of white troops.

While the black troops “participated courageously, it became apparent that they might have to fire on white people, so on July 31, 1877, they were disbanded due to the expiration of their term of service, and honorably discharged,” Seal said.