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April 9, 2021 - 5:51pm

Batavia business owner continues his health battles, including a rare cancer

posted by Billie Owens in charity, GoFundMe, batavia, news, Farmers Insurance Agency.

Jeff Houseknecht, whose 42 birthday is the 26th of this month, continues his battle with a terminal stage 4 cancer so rare fewer than 100 people on the planet are known to have it.

He lives on Garden Drive in Batavia, with his wife of almost 15 years, Carolyn, and their two children, 12-year-old Zachary and 10-year-old Lily.

Jeff has had health problems since he was 20, starting with epilepsy, but was able to soldier on because of his strong work ethic and upbeat attitude. Soon after the birth of his daughter, he was hit with multiple health problems, some of which went largely undiagnosed. These ranged from pneumonia and gastrointestinal problems to a spinal condition that caused his spine to slowly fuse together.

The physical problems steadily piled on.

He eventually was also diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which in turn brought on Parkinson's disease, according to his neurologist, and the resulting impediments to movement and speech that had to be overcome. He nearly recovered but some Parkinson's symptoms remain to be wrestled with.

To continue to be mobile and able to work, he was given twice-monthly shots of Humira, an immunosuppressant drug.

But in 2014, a softball-size lesion developed on his spine, which turned out to be MRSA -- methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus -- an infectious "super bug" that's difficult to treat and eradicate.

It found an opportunity in Jeff because of the Humira regime.

More such lesions would crop up and jeopardize his health further. A golf-ball-size lesion on his forehead appeared to respond to antibiotics at first, then one morning he woke up looking like he endured the bad end of brawl and doctors told him he might lose his right eye.

When Zachary was 6, he told his family his birthday wish was for daddy not to die. The child's heart-wrenching plea was a turning point, prompting Jeff to take time from his work to support his family and instead focus on his health so he could live and resume his responsibilities.

All the while, of course, there are bills and co-pays, plus travel and living expenses that mount as does the emotional toll.

Things were looking better last year before coronavirus struck. The Houseknechts opened Farmers Insurance Agency at 214 E. Main St. in Downtown Batavia and the ribbon cutting with the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce was Feb. 20, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown came almost a month later. They are open now with the expected health and safety protocols in place, but like most small business owners will tell you, it's been a tough year.

And that's without the deep water the Houseknechts have had to slog through. 

But it hasn't been all bad.

"The outpouring of help and support has been probably one of the best things to come out of all this," Carolyn said this afternoon.

Sounding a little choked up, she added, "This community has helped us with housework, helped rake the yard ... we didn't expect to need this much help so soon, but we're very, very grateful for everyone's help."

Jeff said he grew up here and that's just the way people are raised -- they help their neighbors, they give to their community.

They hold basket raffles, meat auctions, 50/50s, chicken BBQs, donate farm produce, give away clothes, boots and mittens, and stock food pantries with goods, donate blood, recycle old electronics for a good cause, pray for you, enlist small armies to craft greeting cards -- you name it.

(We know firsthand they'll pull your vehicle out of a snowbank. (If you're a newcomer with California plates, your wintertime predicament may concurrently prompt the briefest faint smile, but then that could just be your imagination...))

If you'd like to help Jeff and Carolyn Houseknecht and their family monetarily, there's a GoFundMe, established by Carolyn on April 7. To date, $24,510 has been raised toward the $50,000 goal.

Read more at the GoFundMe partner site, CaringBridge.

And/or help the family out by providing them with prepared meals via Meal Train.

File photo of the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of the Houseknechts' insurance agency in Batavia a year ago February.

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