Niki Claus has so many reasons to be grateful, and she is.
She and her family have had a rough time in the past, and her struggle now is dealing with the present, and looking forward to a brighter future.
Her story is proof positive that good health is precious, and without it, how quickly life can be turned upside down.
In September, 2018, Claus was successfully operating a day spa out of her Virgil home. With so many clients, she could have worked seven days a week, but was balancing a heavy work load with caring for her kids. But then, she began having seizures, and other symptoms, but of what, she didn’t know. She was hospitalized several times, and was finally, about six months later, diagnosed with functional neurological disorder. It can cause a range of symptoms, including non-epileptic seizures, weakness, chronic pain and fatigue, all of which she suffered, sometimes to a degree that she couldn’t get out of bed.
It’s a condition of the nervous system, creating problems with how the brain receives signals, Claus explains. She got to the point where she was having several seizures a day, sometimes lasting for several hours.
“Some days, it was constant,” she says. “I couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk, I was bedridden, and on so much medication I really couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t work, there was no money coming in. I couldn’t care for my kids, and John had to stay home to look after them. I was terrified.”
Claus has always considered herself the caregiver in the family, looking after aging parents, and helping out her sister, who is raising a disabled son on her own. But at that time, John had just lost his father, her parents’ health was failing, and she couldn’t help herself, never mind anyone else in the family. “My body was not functioning,” she says. “It was a time that was really harder on my family than it was on me, I was so out of it.”
By April, 2019, having finally received a diagnosis for her condition, and realizing she had to avoid stress and other triggers, she slowly began to improve. However, stress proved difficult to avoid. Her mom passed away, as did John’s. And her father, who depends on her for help, was getting worse, and needed her more than ever.
Claus knows she has so much for which to be grateful. She first met John when she was 19. Decades later, in 2010, they reconnected and rekindled a friendship. They became a couple, married, and began fostering babies, eventually adopting their daughter, Trinity, now four. They were hoping for a second child, and spent their savings to create embryos. Her cousin, a mother of three, offered to be a surrogate for them, and Niki and John are also now proud parents of three-year-old Jaden.
“We tell them they both grew in someone else’s tummy, and God gave them to us,” she says.
When Claus, a certified aesthetician, was so sick she was unable to operate her In Touch Day Spa, she was devastated by the loss of most of her NOTL clientele. Once her health improved, she began the slow process of rebuilding, and John was able to get back into the music community and begin performing again. In addition, last September, hoping to supplement the family income, she and John, a guitarist who performs around the region with his band, Klawz, decided to start a delivery service. They would pick up groceries and other supplies, mostly for seniors who were no longer driving.
With the arrival of COVID-19 in Canada, Claus, who didn’t want to be taking advantage of people during such a difficult time, was relieved to see volunteers offering to help those who couldn’t get out to do their own shopping.
She did, however, have some regular customers for whom she continued to order online groceries, which she and John would pick up and deliver. It helped that they could take their kids with them. She also did some shopping for those who weren’t comfortable ordering online.
But as this corner of the world learned more about the virus, she shut down her day spa, although she continued to offer products for sale, leaving them on her porch or delivering them.
Then came yet another setback. She and her kids were showing cold symptoms, and she realized the last spa client she had seen, had recently returned from Italy, where the disease had really taken hold. After calling a public health assessment centre for information, she was told she and her family must self-isolate for 14 days.
Because of her additional health issues, she was eventually called and given an appointment to be tested.
“That was scary, but when I got to the Niagara Falls clinic, it was Dr. Berti (from NOTL) who was doing the testing. It was all very well set up, and it felt safe, one person at a time.”
Eight days later, she was finally told the test was negative for COVID-19, and she could stop her quarantine, which had been stretched out 10 days past the 14 days, while she waited for her test result.
Now, her spa is closed, musicians are no longer performing, and the family’s last source of income, the delivery service, remains shut down, at least temporarily.
The stress of recent weeks has caused her some relapses, and she is concentrating on her family, with her focus on staying healthy so she can look after them and her father, who is unable to leave his home and relies on her for company and supplies.
“My dad needs me, and I don’t want to put my kids at risk. As much as I want to help, I have to think of my family first.”
She does what she can to avoid stress, trying to keep her kids occupied, making the most of her time with family, and hoping her health improves.
“And I try to stay positive, and trust that everything will be okay,” she says. “I take things day by day, rest when I need to rest, and try to stay calm. Some days I feel fine, other days I’m kind of groggy, and I know I need to take it easy.”
She hopes to be able to rebuild both businesses eventually, she says. “I have this inner faith, not a religious thing, but a trust in the universe, that this is happening for a reason, and that when we come out of it, we can begin again to create our new normal.”