Mary Weeks loved horses. Not content to just ride them in the usual manner, she liked to paint them and drape them in battery-operated lights during the holidays. She was a sight, said her sister, Tina Sayko, riding her “lit up” horses around Garden City, slowing down traffic.
Weeks had been a resident of Garden City since her childhood. The community knew her well. But that didn’t stop a policeman from ticketing her when he caught her carrying an open beer while on horseback. Weeks loved glitter. She loved crazy wigs. She loved playing the slot machines in Jackpot, Nev., so much, she would hide from Sayko whenever it was time to go home.
“Leaving me to go get security to help find her,” said Sayko.
Weeks’ spirit was all the more remarkable for the incurable disease that was a constant throughout her life and that compromised her health. Weeks was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in the 1960s. At that time, life expectancy for someone with the genetic disease was less than 20 years. It’s gotten better because of new treatments and therapies, and life expectancy is now around 40 years. Weeks defied the odds. She died at a local hospital on Dec. 10 at the age of 66.
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Cystic fibrosis causes repeated infections from a buildup of mucus in the lungs and other organs. It can lead to respiratory failure. It also affects the body’s ability to break down food and absorb nutrients. Still, Weeks pieced together a life.
She was profiled twice in the Idaho Statesman, once in 1971 for her medical condition and her “constant struggle to stay happy, alive,” as the headline read. But the other time, several years later, was about her home menagerie. Weeks and her family lived with goats, horses, dogs, cats and a 180-pound sow named Pigger who occasionally strolled through the living room.
Sayko recalls one time when a foal that Weeks was training got spooked. The horse dragged Weeks for two blocks through gravel, pavement and barbed wire. Weeks suffered a myriad of injuries, including a broken tailbone and two broken wrists, all complicated by the CF. It took her six months to heal, but she did, even though she hated relying on people to care for her. She also kept the horse.
“She went all balls out. I think it was her kind of protest,” Sayko said.
Always trying to live
Weeks was the eldest of seven sisters. Three of the seven inherited CF, said Sayko, who does not have the disease. One sister who had CF, Rose Marie, was struck by a car and died from her injuries when she was 12. Julie Evans, the third Sayko sister with CF, also lived longer than doctors expected. She died in the summer of 2016 at the age of 60.
The loss of her sister Julie hit Mary hard, said Sayko, who thinks the loss contributed to Mary’s depression and decline. “Julie’s death made her face her own mortality.”
Karen Miller, adult center director of the St. Luke’s Cystic Fibrosis Center of Idaho, was Mary’s doctor for eight years. The center cares for about 150 adults and children from Idaho, eastern Oregon and northern Nevada who make regularly quarterly visits.
“Mary always brought lists of questions to our appointments. She was always so intent on my answers and jotting down notes, always trying to take the advice that I was giving her to heart,” said Miller.
Mary always tried to live, Miller said. Sayko’s Facebook page includes a photograph of Mary fishing. She’s standing mid-stream, wearing her oxygen pack.
In some ways, Mary’s life was an accelerated one. She married her husband, Larry, at 15 and had her only child, son Stoney, when she was 20. She became a businesswoman, spending her own money to buy what became Tammy’s Riverside Park, a Garden City trailer park. She ran the park with Larry until it closed last year. She also ran a daycare business in her home.
“And she was so sweet,” said Miller. “People say she and Larry never lived alone in their house for her entire life.”
In addition to giving a lot of leeway to trailer park residents who couldn’t pay their rent on time, so much so that friends joked that Mary should turn the park into a homeless shelter, the family also opened their own door.
“Their house was small, the same little house they always lived in. But they would always take people in,” said Sayko.
Mary liked to tell people she was the oldest living CF patient around. She wasn’t. Miller is working with a few local CF patients who are older. Also, because medical tests are becoming more refined, and there are many genetic mutations of CF, more people are being diagnosed at older ages. But Mary liked the story. Every time Miller would remind her there were older patients — not only in the world, but even at St. Luke’s — Mary would act shocked, incredulous.
“Oh, really?” she’d say, said Miller.
“She was a card, a character. You could always tell when she was all dressed up, fancy, that she was feeling good.”