"It's heart-wrenching:" Community rallies around Milwaukee firefighter, wife facing health challenges

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee firefighter is battling a rare disease. While seeking answers, the family learned of another life-threatening challenge. The community is now rallying around the Geppert family.

Derek Geppert

On Sunday morning, February 19th, those who know Derek Geppert said the fire house is where he so desperately wants to be.

"There is nothing more Derek would want in this world than to get back to his job. It is the one thing in this world I think he loves more than me," Melissa Geppert said.

But Derek Geppert is a long way from being able to work at a Milwaukee fire house. The problems began a year ago.

"He told me he was gonna come home and rake the leaves and paint the girls' fingernails and it was February and I said 'something's wrong,'" Melissa Geppert said.

Melissa and Derek Geppert

It was a stroke.

Derek Geppert survived, and in April, he and his wife sought answers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. There, they got a diagnosis that blindsided the family. Melissa Geppert had gotten sick.

"Just was not feeling myself and one simple blood test, and they told me I had leukemia. It was a pretty big shock," Melissa Geppert said.

"It's heart-wrenching because they're the most amazing people, probably, I've ever met," Amy Jencen said.

Melissa Geppert

Jencen and Julie Kojis, close friends of Derek and Melissa Geppert are among those who have rallied behind the family, organizing fundraisers like a summer golf outing which have provided much for the Gepperts.

"She's never said 'why me?' She just says 'God put us here for a reason. This is our journey,'" Jencen said.

The hurdles would continue, though, for the Gepperts. Derek Geppert had three more strokes in December. Doctors said he has a rare auto-immune disorder.

"I feel like there is a bigger purpose to all this and I'm OK with that. I have peace with it," Melissa Geppert said.

Melissa Geppert

The family is being rewarded for their resiliency. After a bone marrow transplant, Melissa Geppert learned her cancer is in remission, and a new treatment seems to be working for Derek Geppert. In fact, he's set to come home on Monday, February 20th, where he'll begin a long rehab process.

"The challenges we face, we're gonna face together and we're gonna get through this together as a family," Melissa Geppert said.

There is another fundraiser that will take place to support the family in April in Delafield.

Geppert family

Geppert family

Geppert family

CLICK HERE to learn more about the April fundraiser.

CLICK HERE to make a donation to a GoFundMe.com account set up to help the Geppert family.

CLICK HERE to learn more about stroke symptoms, so you know when you need to dial 911.