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Apple Valley Woman Addresses Tough Issues Through Children’s Stories

Stacy Raye Waibel shares her experiences with blindness and organ transplants by writing picture books in the voice of her dog, Rudy.

Posted by Jessica Griffith , March 08, 2011 at 03:30 AM

When Apple Valley resident Stacy Raye Waibel begins to write, she draws a picture in her mind and brings it alive with words.

Someone else will illustrate the story, though, since type I diabetes took Waibel’s sight when she was 19 and three organ transplants followed.

“I could have sat in a corner and felt sorry for myself,” Waibel, 47, said. “But that would have been no life.”

Waibel’s toy poodle, Rudy, stars in the collection of children’s books Waibel began working on several years ago, many of which help address challenging subjects—such as kidney transplants—for children who are dealing with them.

“My goal is to take away some of the fear,” Waibel said. “I try to make the stories truthful but not scary. I explain but I don’t give graphic details and I try to give them the facts, but in a fun way. That is why Rudy is the main character—he is fun.”

Waibel was diagnosed with diabetes at age 9, and during her first year of college she suffered multiple complications and lost her sight. After a six-month hospital stay, Waibel changed her major from pharmacy to speech communication and psychology and began speaking about her diabetes and blindness.

She graduated from St. Cloud State University and married Wayne Waibel, a technology support specialist for the Dakota County Library system. The couple has lived in Apple Valley since 1997.

Fast forward to Christmas 2005. In her holiday letter, Waibel used Rudy’s voice to relay the news of the year. Family and friends loved it and suggested she write more Rudy stories.

Waibel wrote a dozen rough drafts in two weeks, and created Rudy’s Little World.

She tried to publish the stories, but lost patience with the process and decided to self-publish, she said; the first book, “Rudy Gets a Transplant,” appeared in 2008. Waibel said a social worker suggested she write about the transplant experience for children and their parents.

“She has a nice way of breaking things down for children without being evasive or sugar-coating,” her husband said.

Waibel received a kidney from her sister-in-law in 1995, and when that kidney began to fail, her husband Wayne donated a second kidney in 2009. She also received a new pancreas in 2003, which cured her diabetes.

She later published two more picture books, one about a trip to the doctor and one a lighter story about a mystery object on Rudy’s nose, for which local artists provided illustrations.

Her current project is “Rudy’s Incredible Kidney Machine,” which explains kidney dialysis.

Waibel now visits schools and libraries to read to children and answer their questions. Corporations and healthcare organizations also have hired her as a motivational speaker, a part of her business she said she’d love to expand.

Waibel encourages children and adults to turn challenges into opportunities.

“Being blind isn’t the end of the world,” she said. “You don’t need to give up your life; you just need to learn to live it a little differently.”

Waibel writes every day, usually in longhand with the help of a plastic guide that frames the text so she can write in straight lines. Wayne transcribes her work and designs the layout for the books. She also uses software that reads her stories aloud, a technology she said has improved in recent years.

In addition to the stories, she writes a blog from Rudy’s perspective and participates in the SouthSide Writers group at the Wescott Library in Eagan.

“Her courage and tenacity toward writing and marketing her work provide inspiration for us all,” said Helen Montgomery, an Eagan-based novelist and the group’s facilitator. “[I am] specifically referring to the courage to pursue a writing career in all its myriad facets, particularly marketing, despite the obstacles that blindness and health can create.”

Rudy remains Waibel’s inspiration.

“He is such a little personality,” Waibel said. “He loves to dance on his back legs and move his paws up and down; we call it pup-aerobics. But he will cuddle and sit in your lap for hours, too.”

A list of Rudy’s stories appears on Waibel’s website, and not all are health-related; some are fanciful tales about Santa and superheroes, while others tackle subjects like diversity.

“It is important to talk to children about different topics before their curiosity is gone,” Waibel said. “After a certain age, they may still wonder but they won’t ask questions anymore. I think the more questions, the better.”

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