Trick-or-treaters tromping through Clark Crinklaw's front yard tonight likely will be impressed by the elaborate Halloween decorations — the dungeon, the gravestones, the Garden of Heads, the rolling fog and all those skulls stuck on the faux wrought-iron fenceposts.
But few of the kids or their parents will have any idea why he makes such a big deal out of Halloween.
Twenty-five years ago, Crinklaw, 50, was attending classes at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and working nights at UPS. He was feeling run-down. After a visit to the doctor and several tests, doctors told him he had acute myeloid leukemia. Treatment after treatment followed throughout the summer of 1987.
Crinklaw would be in the hospital for a month, then out for two weeks, then in for a month, then out for two weeks. In early September of that year, the doctors told him he needed to regain some of the 80 pounds he had lost and build up his strength in preparation for a bone-marrow transplant at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in October.
When he checked in, doctors said he should be prepared to stay through the holidays because of how long it would likely take him to regenerate blood cells. “I said, 'You know what? I'm gonna be here for a month and I'm going home. I just can't take it anymore. I've had enough hospital.' But they humored me: 'Ha, ha, OK, great.'”
About 10 days after they had destroyed Crinklaw's own bone marrow, doctors transplanted marrow from Crinklaw's brother, Craig, into him.
Seven days later, he started showing signs of white blood cell growth. “They were just, like, 'Wow, this has never happened before.'”
Another week went by and Crinklaw was doing well. Toward the end of October, doctors told him he would be going home.
He left the hospital on Halloween.
“We went down to Broncos,” he said. “ I couldn't taste a thing.”
He didn't start decorating for Halloween until after he, his wife, Lois, and their daughter, Anna, moved to a house near 98th Avenue and Blondo Street in 1998. Crinklaw built his first tombstone, painting and carving Styrofoam stuck to plywood, and kept accumulating new props and building others over the years. He built his newest feature, a walk-through mausoleum, this year.
Anna, who turns 16 next month, has grown up surrounded by all the Halloween decorations. “We have these little ghosts inside that have plastic heads,” she said. “I would always use those if I was playing house. They would be my babies.”
Lois said her daughter “always says she doesn't need to go to a haunted house because she lives in one.”
Crinklaw now works for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security. To mark the 25th anniversary of his release from the hospital, he and his wife threw a party Saturday for some of his Army buddies and family and friends.
The only lingering effect from the leukemia is that the hair on Crinklaw's head won't grow back after all the cancer treatment he endured.
Today, he encourages co-workers to donate to the United Way, which supports the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. And he keeps his eye out for good deals on Halloween-related props.
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