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Valley Pre-Owned

Publish Date: 1/1/2007

Mark Zen does physical therapy exercises in a pool at Physiotherapy Associates in Longmont in December. Earlier this year, he was fighting for disability benefits and was going to lose his home, but since then he has received disability and is now going through physical therapy to recover from surgery to place a new set of screws in one of his lower vertebrae. Times-Call/Jackie Endsley

Another step of the adventure
Friends help Zen pay medical bills, keep home

EDITOR’S NOTE: At the end of each year, the Daily Times-Call updates readers with its “Where Are They Now” series, which revisits notable area newsmakers and finds out how they’re faring. Through Tuesday, Times-Call staff writers will bring you stories and vignettes about people, animals and even a Pluto-bound spacecraft featured on our pages over the past year.

FORT LUPTON — Mark Zen is enjoying the stability that finally returned to his life.

A string of bad luck earlier this year left Zen, 45, and his wife, Mel Miller, 46, jobless and without medical insurance. The loss of income meant the two could no longer pay their mortgage, and their house went up for foreclosure in May.

With help from the American Legion and a generous check from a friend, the couple kept their home.

“Family and friends have helped out along the way,” Zen said.

His life has been an adventure up to this point.

Twenty-five years ago, Zen left Longmont to ride his bike 5,200 miles across the country, where blizzards and bike breakdowns confronted him.

In 1982, after the trek, Dave Swenson — owner of Bike-n-Hike, 1136 Main St. — hired Zen, who worked as a manager at the store for several years.

“At that age, he was ambitious and had lots of plans for doing great things with his life,” Swenson said in a previous interview.

Zen later joined the Navy to continue his travels, but in 1988, two years into his tour, doctors diagnosed him with rheumatoid arthritis, a progressive disease that causes chronic joint inflammation and can lead to joint destruction.

The Navy tried to push him out because of the diagnosis, but Zen insisted he finish his tour.

The disease progressed over the years until it became debilitating, and he still suffers its effects today.

Zen’s constant doctor’s appointments, coupled with no medical insurance and a long fight for disability assistance with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security, made paying medical bills next to impossible.

After an article in the Daily Times-Call in May about his predicament, more help came when a few doctor’s offices wrote off some of the money the couple owed, and they finally won the battle for assistance.

Miller also was rehired by UPS, so the couple now have medical insurance, which paid for Zen’s back surgery this summer, when he had a new set of screws placed in one of his lower vertebrae.

“Most of my concentration is (put toward) getting him back on his own two feet,” Miller said.

Zen goes to physical therapy twice a week but spends much of his time in a wheelchair. The couple said they may eventually have to install a lift.

“I just try to stay as healthy as possible, so that won’t be for a while,” Zen said.

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