Isanti man struggling to pay bills

after COPD, losing fingers to frostbite

Jon Olson at his trailer home in Isanti Estates. Photo by Austin Gerth
After illness and injury left him unable to work, an Isanti man is struggling to make payments for his trailer home and other expenses.
Jon Olson was hospitalized with a bad case of pneumonia in the spring of 2016, and during this past winter he lost the fingers on his right hand due to a severe frostbite. A few years ago, he was diagnosed with the respiratory disease COPD, which has worsened over time and now makes it hard for him to engage in extended periods of activity.
Olson said he and others were laid off from American Manufacturing around the time of his pneumonia, but since then doctors have ordered him to stop working due to his COPD.
“I try to vacuum this carpet and I’ve got to sit down three, four times,” Olson said of his COPD. “I’ve got to do things really slow.”
The night Olson got frostbite, he had been helping one of his neighbors working on a motor. He was not wearing gloves. When he went back to his trailer home to go inside, he couldn’t find his keys. He assumed he left the keys in the shed on his property, but when he went to retrieve them, he took a bad fall and struggled to get up.
“I’m swimming in the damn snow trying to get up,” Olson said.
He eventually managed to get over to the shed, but he slipped again. His ribs were bruised.
Olson was soaking wet when he finally got inside, and his hands were frozen. He was likely in shock.
“I don’t know how I got in because it was pitch black,” Olson said.
Later, Olson’s daughter-in-law, Sarah Tetten, came over. Upon seeing Olson’s condition, she took him to the hospital.
“They took one look at my hands and said, ‘There’s nothing we can do,’” Olson said.
He was sent to the burn unit at Hennepin County Medical Center.
Before his COPD forced him to stop, Olson said he loved working.
“Oh God, I miss working,” he said. “I hate not being able to work. It drives me nuts.”
Olson spent his professional career doing heavy manual labor: cutting and building steel trusses, and winding garage door springs. His common law wife, Cindy, died four years ago, and he has been relying on assistance from his children, his father and area churches to keep the bills paid while he waits for his Social Security payouts to start. He said the process of getting his Social Security started has taken several months due to administrative issues, but once they start up he believes it will be easier for him to get by financially. Olson was several years away from retirement age when he was told he couldn’t work anymore.
Olson’s daughter-in-law, Sarah Tetten, said he has only worked two or three jobs in his career, staying with each company for years at a time.
“He’s worked really hard to be where he’s at,” she said.
Both Olson and Tetten say they would welcome assistance from community members.
“He’s just a good man,” Tetten said, “and he needs all the help and support he can get.”
Olson has resided in the Isanti Estates trailer park for decades. His current trailer home is under a 15-year mortgage, he said.
“I’ve been here 25 years,” Olson said. “I raised my kids here.”