Volunteers keep Christmas light tradition going for man who survived Covid-19, two strokes and a heart attack

Dale and Julie Marks and their neighbors go all out with their Christmas decorations every year and people come from all over the Des Moines, Iowa, area to see their homes covered in festive lights and holiday displays.

The couple weren’t sure how they would be able participate this year, after Dale suffered two strokes and a heart attack while battling Covid-19, until some volunteers stepped in to help.

“Dale decorates and puts all the lights up — I do the small things, he does the big things — and I knew there was no way that I could do it,” Julie Marks, 57, told CNN. “He started talking about it and I was pretty sure it was impossible.”

Local contractor Bob Coffey heard about their situation through a mutual friend and he and four of his employees came out Monday to do the work for free.

Coffey said he remembers driving through the neighborhood to see the lights as a kid, so he knows it’s an important tradition.

Dale Marks sat on the porch as the crew decorated.

“You could just tell that he wanted to be there. So he would just say, ‘Hey, come here, I need this over here. I need this over here,'” Coffey said. “He knew to a T where everything went.”

When the crew finished for the day, Coffey said he told Marks that he was glad to be able to help.

“He thanked me, he cried a little bit, I got teary,” Coffey said. “You could tell how much he appreciated it, and that’s what makes it worth it.”

The Marks had more decorations coming, so Coffey and his crew will be coming back to get them set up.

Julie Marks said her husband kind of overdid it on Monday, because being out in the cold makes his severe cough even worse, so he was resting up to rebuild his strength.

She said they both came down with Covid-19 in mid-September and she recovered after about two weeks, but Dale was sicker.

He collapsed one night and was rushed to the hospital for what turned out to be strokes on each side of his brain. He later had a heart attack while being treated for blockages of his carotid arteries, she said.

Dale Marks spent a total of 28 days in the hospital, she said.

Now that he’s home, he is looking forward to the nightly parade of cars that will drive through their neighborhood from Thanksgiving night until New Year’s.

Last year, they used the opportunity to collect food and donations for Food Bank of Iowa and brought in 1,500 pounds of food and more than $7,500 for the organization, Julie Marks said.

Food Bank of Iowa spokeswoman Annette Hacker told CNN affiliate KCCI that $10 dollars can feed a person for a week and $5 will provide food to keep an elementary school student from going hungry over the weekend.

Dale Marks collected donations and handed out candy canes to people as they came through, but this year, he’ll watch from his window, his wife said.

She said they won’t turn on their lights until Thanksgiving night because they want to focus on giving thanks for all their blessings.

“It’s the thankful season,” she said. “We don’t want to bring on Christmas too quick, but we are thankful.”

Marks said she was a single mom before she met Dale 30 years ago and had to do without, so she hopes that this year’s food drive brings in even more donations.

“Nothing we have, we believe, is ours. So if we can love on other people and raise money and food for the food bank, that’s what we’re gonna do every year until we can’t,” she said.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.