By Megan Kelley
Lake Orion Review Staff Writer
If you’re not looking for them, they can be easily missed, but for travelers on Baldwin Rd., every day is a cruise through Gary Elzerman’s portfolio of wood carvings.
Raised in Lake Orion, Elzerman now lives on the west side of Baldwin Road on the border of Orion and Oxford. For 25
years, he has been a self-employed chainsaw sculptor creating thousands of pieces for local businesses, residents and charities as well as celebrities such as Kid Rock and Clint Black.
However, in April of 2018, everything changed when he was diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic valve, ascending aortic root aneurysm and coarctation of the aorta.
“In April, I found out about my heart condition and I wasn’t supposed to lift over 10 pounds, which is pretty much impossible because one of my saws weighs almost 40 pounds,” Elzerman said. “It became hard. I just did what I could do.”
Early on in his diagnosis, plans to treat the condition were on the fast track. However, plans shifted when doctors suggested waiting six more months and checking the natural progress of his condition.
By November, Elzerman’s heart had only gotten worse.
“My aorta is missing two bicuspid flaps…my blood rushes in and my heart’s supposed to be at two millimeters and I’m almost at six (millimeters),” Elzerman said. “Pretty much, my heart could burst, so I have to be very careful not to lift over 10 pounds, which makes it difficult for me to do any work.”
Elzerman has been carving his entire life; from ice sculptures for the Canterbury Village Ice Festival to butter carvings for his grandmother. It wasn’t until a friend of his asked him to carve a tree into an eagle totem pole that he started to receive phone calls requesting more woodcarvings.
Almost overnight, Elzerman had gone from chef to fulltime commissioned artist.
However, because of his heart condition he has been unable to work for some time now.
On January 31, Elzerman, 53, and his wife, Paula, will travel to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio so he can have open-heart surgery.
“There’s nobody in the state of Michigan that will touch my heart…I still haven’t gotten the OK from my insurance company because I’m going out of network to a different place so that’s a scary thing in itself,” Elzerman said. “My wife’s going to come down to be with me, which means just the hotel expense (is costly) because they don’t put me in the hospital the first three days, they’ll do testing. I’ll be in the hospital for six days and then they expect me to stay back there for two to three more days in a hotel room and then get retested again. So… it’s going to be like going on a nice long vacation, except I’m going to have open heart surgery. So, it’s just another huge cost.”
Elzerman’s longtime friend, Neal Searle, explained that that situation would be the best-case scenario.
“If things don’t go perfect then his stay gets extended for as long as is necessary,” Searle said.
Over the past several months, Elzerman has taken on a role he has not often found himself in — the receiver, rather than the giver, of support.
“Lake Orion is a very charitable place…I’ve co-chaired and chaired many different fundraisers for people that have cancer…so it was sort of my responsibility to help in any way I can,” Elzerman said. “Once people heard about this…you never know who’s going to step up.”
In his years of sculpting, he’s donated more than 400 different carvings to organizations, charities and individuals.
Searle has been a champion of Elzerman’s for many years and is one of the creators of a GoFundMe page to aid with the family’s expenses.
“People like to do for others but people don’t like to ask for help,” Searle said. “His big issue is his health, and he has to deal with that every day and I’m sure it’s overwhelming. So, this was our way of helping to take one thing off of his worry list.”
As of Monday, the GoFundMe page has raised $29,330 of the $250,000 goal.
To make a donation to help Elzerman and his family with living and medical expenses visit their GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com and enter “Life Saving Surgery for Gary Elzerman” in the search bar.