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Three inspirational stories of survival

Three inspirational stories of survival

Date: February 10, 2018 | By Deanna Surbrook

“A strong person is not the one who doesn’t cry. A strong person is the one who cries and sheds tears for a moment, and then gets up and fights again.” – Author unknown.

In the last few years, Jason Tinker, Stefanie Kernstock and Jessica Killinger Cloutier, have endured more than any person should ever go through. But their strength and sheer will to survive guided them through their heartwrenching journeys to reclaim their lives.

The Ogemaw County Voice has told their stories over the years, and we wanted to check in and see how they’re doing today.

It’s been a long, hard road of recovery, both physically and emotionally, for Jason Tinker, who suffered third degree burns on nearly one-half of his body.

On March 19, 2015, before Jason left for work, he was tending to the wood boiler to get it going for the day. The boiler runs on oil, and Jason inadvertently added oil mixed with gasoline, causing a large explosion. Jason was fully engulfed in flames.

After being stabilized at West Branch Regional Medical Center, he was transferred to the burn unit at Hurley Medical Center in Flint. Though lucky to be alive, Jason was in excruciating pain. Even with the strongest of narcotic pain medications, he felt no relief.

Jason was confined to a hospital bed with nothing to do but worry about his family wife, Lisa, their children, and how the bills were going to get paid. Lying in the same position and not being able to get up, Jason admits he got very “angry” and “mean.” He slipped into a deep depression and was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“I was blown up and sometimes the brain can’t process the trauma,” explained Jason. “It was hard for me to comprehend that I wouldn’t be able to do what I used to. I couldn’t drive so I wasn’t even able to leave when I wanted to.”

Jason started counseling and said it has really helped him and he is feeling much better these days. The blast caused extensive nerve damage to his legs and he goes to physical therapy three times a week.

Jason is permanently disabled and will not be able to return to his mechanic job at Willards Equipment. His employers, Jerry and Theresa Wangler and Doug and Connie Parliament have been good to him.

“They’ve treated me like family,” Jason said. “I’m so grateful for the great people in my life.”

Jason says he would never have been able to make it without the support of so many people, especially Lisa, and his parents, Tom and Bev Tinker.

“I’m going to beat all of this… it’s just a matter of time,” he said. “I’m going to live my life to the fullest…I’m not going to waste it anymore.”


In February of 2016, Stefanie Kernstock, then only 37 and a single mother of two young boys, received the earth shattering news that she had ovarian cancer after going in for a routine annual exam.

Her doctor informed Stefanie that she had large tumors that were cancerous and she needed a hysterectomy, but it couldn’t take place until the tumors had significantly shrunk. Stefanie immediately began receiving chemotherapy twice a week, 32 times total, in hopes to accomplish just that.

Stefanie says she hit “rock bottom.”

“I asked what I did to deserve this,” she said, adding chemo was nothing short of horrendous. “I puked all the time…I lost 82 pounds…my hair started falling out. Every part of my body…all my energy was gone.”

But as devastated as she was, Stefanie knew she had to keep it together for her sons, Xavier, then 13, and Donavan, 11.

“I tried to stay as positive as possible,” she said. “I didn’t want them to see it, but they were still scared…they knew I had cancer.”

After the chemo treatments ended, the tumors had shrunk enough for doctors to perform the life-saving surgery, which took place May 30 of that year.

Only two weeks later, her doctor performed a blood test, and no cancerous cells were detected in her body. However, it was too soon to rule her cancer-free. Following further tests six weeks later, her doctor told Stefanie she was in remission, but still not in the clear.

A year later, it was official.

“I’M CANCER FREE,” she exclaimed. “I’m doing great. It was such a relief to know I had a second chance at life.

“(After being diagnosed with cancer), your life comes to a complete stand still,” Stefanie said, adding her experience has made her a better person. “I’m so much more involved with my kids. I’m volunteering a lot and I want to try to help everyone.”

Their mom’s experience has made the boys much more willing as well, to lend a hand to whomever needs it.

“They have the softest hearts,” Stefanie said. “It has changed us all.”

Recently, Stefanie had another cancer scare after a tumor was found in her colon, but thankfully it came back benign. Doctors will have to keep a close eye on her for the rest of her life with regular blood tests and CAT scans.

Stefanie urges all women to not put off going in for annual exams.

“It can save your life,” she said. “There is still no cure (for cancer). It is absolutely insane that in 2018…in the land of the free that there is not a cure. Nobody should have to go through this…it’s absolutely horrible.”


The last time we checked in on Jessica Killinger Cloutier she was recovering nicely after undergoing a life-saving kidney transplant on March 20, 2015, through a paired organ exchange at the University of Michigan. Jessica’s older sister, Ashley Wolosonowich, volunteered to give her sister a kidney, but the two were not a compatible match. Through the exchange, Ashley was able to donate her kidney to another recipient that was a match, and in turn Jessica received her kidney from the other’s donor.

The transplant was necessary because Jessica had been diagnosed with Good Pasture’s Syndrome, an incurable disease, so rare that it only affects one in a million people.

The disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects both the kidneys and lungs, leading to infection and bleeding. After attempting to filter toxins and diseased antibodies from her plasma to no avail, Jessica began oral chemotherapy and hemodialysis. She had to have a port inserted in her chest. After a few months, it became evident that Jessica’s only chance of survival was to have a kidney transplant.

The surgery was a success, but complications arose a few months later when her body began rejecting her new kidney, but doctors were able to save it and she hasn’t had any real trouble since.

“I’m doing very well,” said Jessica, adding that she is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. “You just never know if my body will start rejecting it again. I try not to think about it.”

Since the transplant, Jessica married her long-time boyfriend, Clay Cloutier, and are raising daughter, eight-year-old Brooke.

How has this long journey changed you?

“I’m just so grateful,” Jessica said, adding she was unable to travel because of all her dialysis treatments that are now behind her. “I don’t take anything for granted anymore. You just appreciate everything more.”

Jessica and Clay are planning to take Brooke on a trip to Disney. She remains forever grateful to Ashley for donating a kidney, and to her family that has been with her every step of the way.

To become an organ donor, contact your local Secretary of State office. The West Branch office is located at 2394 M-55, or call 888-767-6424. Information is also available online at www.michigan.gov/sos.

It is said that one donor can save the life of up to eight people and improve the lives of 50 more.

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