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"Take that lift as long as you want"

From hospice room, Malatek thanks Divoky
Pat and Tom Malatek of Ely during a Valentine’s Day event at the American Legion. Mark Divoky loaned the couple a wheelchair-accessible van while Tom sought treatment for a cancer diagnosis. (photo courtesy Pat Malatek)

CEDAR RAPIDS– Tom Malatek just wanted to say thank you.
Malatek, 67, a lifelong resident of Ely and a longtime member of the Ely Fire Department and Solon American Legion, was having trouble with his right leg as he underwent treatment for multiple myeloma at area hospitals.
Mark Divoky, owner and operator of Mark’s Auto Body in Solon, heard of Malatek’s difficulty and offered the use of a wheelchair-accessible van he had recently purchased.
“Mark told me you take that lift as long as you want. You don’t have to bring it back until I need it,” Tom said from his bed in the Ed & Joan Hemphill Hospice Unit at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids.
“In a small town like Ely, to have someone do something like that is pretty generous,” he said. “That’s the kind of businessman I’d like in my town.”
Tom retired from the Cedar Rapids Fire Department in 2006 after nearly 30 years on the job, and has been an Ely firefighter for over 40 years.
“Tom’s lived there all his life and of course knows virtually everybody in Solon,” said Tom’s wife, Pat. “I always make jokes about you can’t take him anywhere– Linn County, Cedar County, Johnson County– and everywhere in between– just oodles and oodles of friends.”
Tom also spent a lot of his time hunting and fishing, always out and about.
“When I first moved in with him, I wouldn’t see him all day,” Pat said. “He’d leave at seven in the morning and it would be late in the day before I’d see him again.”
About a year ago, he began experiencing back pain.
He sought out treatment, and it helped for a while, but it didn’t go away.
In June, the Malateks took Pat’s 12-year-old granddaughter and a half-dozen of her fellow Girl Scout troop members to the Ozarks, where Pat and Tom have a cabin.
“We took them out on the lake on the pontoon,” Pat said. “They didn’t want to fish, that’s just the way they are, but they had a ball. Tom was so good with them, and he was in so much pain even then.”
After they returned from the trip, Tom was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell, which fight infections by making antibodies that recognize and attack germs.
Multiple myeloma causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, where they crowd out healthy blood cells, according to the Mayo Clinic website. Rather than produce helpful antibodies, the cancer cells produce abnormal proteins that can cause complications.
“This has taken him down,” Pat said. “Both of us. It’s kind of hard to see him like this because he’s always been so active.”
Tom underwent a stem cell transplant in October at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC), and it seemed to help.
“He was coming along so well, and he was actually in remission in December,” Pat noted.
But he started having problems with his right leg. It was getting weak, perhaps as a side effect from chemotherapy or from the myeloma; the doctors weren’t sure.
Sometimes he would have a little trouble maneuvering, Pat said, especially on carpet.
“It just got worse.”
He fell at home and ended up at UIHC for about three weeks.
After returning home, Tom started physical therapy at St. Luke’s for his leg in addition to appointments in Iowa City to the oncologist and for chemotherapy and steroid infusions.
“Getting him in and out of the vehicle was a struggle,” Pat explained.
The couple have a nephew and good friends just blocks away, but even with three people, it was still quite a challenge to get him in their sport utility vehicle.
And when they arrived at the hospital, they would have to find someone to help do it again.
“We could call just about anybody and they’d be there in a heartbeat to help us,” she said. But while everyone was happy to assist, after a while, there would be a time when someone was not available.
Three months or so ago, she said, the word got around to Mark Divoky in Solon.
Divoky had purchased a used, wheelchair-accessible van for his mother but he hadn’t had a chance to use yet.
Tom and Mark have known each other for decades, and Divoky told some of Tom’s friends he had heard they were struggling.
Divoky offered the van to the Malateks through friends.
“And we’ve pretty much had it ever since,” Pat said.
She said Divoky declined to accept any type of payment for the use of the vehicle.
Mark’s mom, Doris Divoky, passed away Feb. 9, she said, before he had a chance to use the van.
Tom and Pat attended the visitation, although by this time, Tom was in a wheelchair.
“He tried again, even in the reception line at visitation in the church, he tried to get Mark to take something for the use of it, and Mark just wouldn’t hear of it,” Pat said.
Even before then, Tom had talked to Pat about wanting to do something for Divoky to thank him for his kindness.
“And then a couple of weeks ago, right before we came up, he said ‘You know, it would make a nice story for the Economist. Then Mark can’t say anything.’”
Both Mark and his daughter Danielle work hard, she said, and have a great business that’s respected in the community.
“You treat people well and it will come back to you,” Pat said. “And Tom wanted to make sure that Mark knew how much we appreciated it.
“People are just amazing,” she said, fighting back tears. “And this is just one example, but a very big example of what goes around, comes around. It’s hard to put into words because it was such a wonderful thing, and it was such a relief for us, so much easier.”
They have used the van almost every day, not only to medical appointments, but so Tom and his buddies – Jay Koehn, John Kroul, Randy Zbanek, nephew Brad Malatek and others– could get outside and visit other people.
When the glass fell out of the side mirror of the van, they stopped by Mark’s Auto Body o let Mark and Danielle know.
Danielle came out and sat with Tom and Pat in the van for a half hour visiting.
“You go anywhere else and you’re not going to find that,” Pat said.
Tom said he’d lay in bed at night thinking of ways to thank Divoky.
He’s known Divoky maybe 40 years, he said, sending him business every time he’d damage his pickup chasing coyotes.
“I’d like the business people to know what a great service person they have in their town, to turn around and do something like that,” Tom said. “I think Mark is unbelievable to do that.”
“It’s more of a great big thank you note we want to put out there,” Pat said.
She turned to Tom in his hospital bed.
“Do you think you want to let Mark know that we’re doing this?” she said. “Do you want it to be a surprise?”
“I think I can whip him,” Tom said. “I really think it would be an outstanding story.”