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Friends rally, set up fundraiser for Scottish teammate after accident

By Joanne Beck
Ethan Walker soccer
Ethan Walker of Aberdeen, Scotland, a student athlete at Genesee Community College, was in an automobile accident on Sept. 12 and is at Erie County Medical Center while his teammates rally for his recovery and help to raise funds to offset his medical expenses. 
Submitted photo

Ethan Walker, 17, was hardly a shrinking violet on or off the soccer field, standing six-foot-one, playing center back, and demonstrating talent and grit that made him a top recruit and fast friend from Scotland, Ben Bacon says.

“He was an absolute monster on the field. He was built like a rhino,” Bacon said to The Batavian of his teammate and fellow freshman at Genesee Community College. “His determination on the field was just outstanding. He’s just a beast. He’s one of those people who you will never ever, ever see him in a bad mood, and he’ll always have a smile on his face.”

It is perhaps Ethan who needs — and is getting — smiles, kind words and both moral and financial support in his great time of need after a major accident on Sept. 12. 

He was walking back to his dorm from an off-campus residence that night and was hit by a Toyota RAV4. Two of his teammates called for police and medical assistance, and he was transported by ambulance and then flown by Mercy EMS to Erie Community Medical Center and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit, “where they fought to keep him alive,” Bacon said in an online post. 

“The medical staff said he was suffering from a shattered right scapula, dislocated right knee, tearing of all the ligaments in his right knee, multiple fractures in the right side of his face, skull fractures, as well as swelling and bleeding in the brain,” his post states. “Ethan’s mother was notified, and she was able to book a flight and get here from Scotland only a day later. You can only imagine what she was going through as her son was fighting for his life, and she was across the world from him.”

Bacon created that post as part of a GoFundMe fundraiser to assist his friend’s family with the medical expenses to come from Ethan’s care and treatment. Since he was here as an international student, he did what most students do and chose the cheapest insurance plan because no one expects something like this to happen, Bacon said. 

When the accident first occurred in the wee hours of the morning, only a small portion of students knew about it, and then as more people learned about it, they went from being shocked and distraught to “everyone wanted to help,” he said. “It brought the entire school community together.”

“It felt like one big family,” he said, that included students, staff, administrators, and family members. That big lug “built like a tree trunk” who would lift everyone up and “always bring the positivity” level up anywhere he went has now been getting it twofold from friends and strangers alike.

The fundraiser has gotten donations from 820 folks so far, many of whom are including prayers, thoughts and well wishes for a speedy recovery and to stay strong. A goal of $50,000 has been more than half met so far, with a total of $27,342, and Bacon wants to see it keep rising to alleviate at least one worry for the Walker family. 

Ethan’s girlfriend and dad also flew here shortly after the accident and have been staying nearby as he gradually begins to heal enough to return back home to Aberdeen, Scotland. 

International students are commonplace to the GCC soccer program, Bacon said, which has been very successful — it’s #2 in the nation as a D-3 sport — and has more frequently been recruiting overseas for players. There are only four American students out of a roster of 28 players, he said. The soccer coach is from Ireland, and the team captain is from Scotland. 

Ethan lived one floor above Bacon, and they’d meet in Bacon’s room, which was in the middle for everybody as a common room to hang out. “So he's in our room quite frequently, and he's one of the ones that I grew closer with,” Bacon said. 

What’s not to like? Ethan was a super hard worker and “a pretty standout guy,” he said. He traveled alone from his homeland to pursue his dreams of obtaining a good education while playing professional soccer, or “futbol,” as he’d say.

“He was constantly in the gym and doing everything he could to improve and be better,” Bacon said. “He’s a very intimidating person, but one of the happiest and nicest, friendliest people I've ever met, one of those kids that kind of just lifts everyone up and, like, makes the total aura and vibe around him kind of happier and better to be in. 

“He really just is always bringing positivity wherever he is, whether it's in the classroom, on the field, and just a conversation that he's having with a couple of the guys, wherever it is, it’s always boosting and making it a more respectable and positive environment,” he said.

He and his teammates have been visiting the patient as often as possible, and he was recently moved out of the ICU, a good sign of Ethan-like progress.

“He keeps improving every day,” Bacon said. “Everything seems positive.” 

While there have, of course, been negatives given such a tragic accident, Bacon has also gleaned the positives from so many people rallying together to support their fellow student and his family, he said. 

“We’re more than thankful and extraordinarily grateful for the school and community,” he said. “That would be lovely to reach (the goal), and we will keep raising it as much as we can. Once the donations are done, all will be transferred into his accounts to pay the bills.

“This tragedy was extremely unexpected, and on behalf of me and my family and Ethan’s close friends, teammates, coaches, and administrators, we wanted to set up this GoFundMe to help and assist Ethan and his family through this long, difficult, and painful process of recovery and healing, and getting Ethan back out on the pitch as soon as possible,” his online post states. “Ethan’s family and our college have been involved with me starting this fundraiser on his behalf from the beginning. Ethan is my friend and teammate here at Genesee Community College, and Ethan’s parents are here with us in the USA now while Ethan is in the ICU. Ethan will be the direct beneficiary of 100 percent of these funds, and his parents will personally ensure these funds will be deposited into Ethan’s account. We post this to remain in compliance with GoFundMe and to ensure there is trust between us and those of you who have been so generous!”

Go HERE for more information or to donate.

Submitted photos.

Ethan Walker in dress
Ethan Walker with players
Ethan Walker smiling at home
Ethan Walker #29

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

By Billie Owens


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.

Corfu girl helps cousin raise money for medical expenses and helps butterflies, too

By Billie Owens


Photos and information from Melissa Strang:

Talk about stepping up, how about leaping up. A 6-year-old with a big heart came to the aid of her 22-year-old cousin who was diagnosed in late January with a rare blood disorder that can result in serious, life-threatening health problems.

Jaide Alexyn has thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, or TTP, which causes clots to form in small blood vessels throughout the body. These can limit the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the body's organs -- like the brain, kidneys and heart. It requires emergency medical treatment.

That's been very expensive and the road to getting the disease under control is expected to be long and rocky, possibly something she'll have to grapple with all her life.

Alexyn's cousin, first-grader Ainsley Strang, wanted to donate to the GoFundMe account Alexyn's family started, so she and her mother came up with something homemade to sell that also benefits endangered monarch butterflies.

Ainsley started making heart-shaped, handmade, plantable seed mix cakes -- a blend specifically enjoyed and needed by monarch butterflies. But the little go-getter-turned-artiste also made paintings to sell and sent these along with letters to friends' grandparents in nursing homes to brighten their day.

"She started with a donation goal of (raising) $40 and we had no idea her FUNdraiser would be so successful," her mother Melissa Strang, wrote in an email to The Batavian. "She raised $1,007 ... A friend of mine, Danielle, from school reached out who was so touched by Jaide’s situation and invested so much of her time, and helped spread the word of Ainsley’s efforts.

"Before we knew it, the orders were flying in and our $40 goal was smashed! My daughter raised, what I consider, a hefty amount of money and we are beyond proud of her."

What Ainsley's family would really love is for someone or some business in Genesee County to match the child's donation for Ainsley's 7th birthday, March 10th; how happy she would be!

They are keeping their fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, Alexyn is trying to stay strong and do what she needs to do to regain her health. It's been hard because she's a recent college graduate just starting out her life as an adult, working and going to job interviews, like all of us, amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

"This is a life-changing condition that has altered Jaide’s life so she will require significant financial support," says Strang. "Eventually she will be able to work again, but unfortunately relapses and doctors visits will be a way of life. ... Hopefully, the doctors will get this new disease under control for Jaide and COVID will also subside soon. For now, she needs help with her new normal."



Liberty Street man may file insurance claim against City; GoFundMe campaign at $1,250

By Mike Pettinella

The sister of the Liberty Street man who has been displaced as a result of a 20-hour police standoff on Nov. 18-19 said she is looking into filing an insurance claim against the City of Batavia for damages inflicted upon her brother’s apartment.

“We’re considering that (filing a form with the Supreme Court of the State of New York) against the City, but we’re waiting to see how much we get from the GoFundMe page,” Mary Ellen Wilber said this morning. “Hopefully, we won’t have to.”

Currently, the campaign set up for her brother, David Zanghi, has raised $1,250 toward its goal of $2,000, with the money to be used to replace the man’s personal belongings, including clothes, which were destroyed by tear gas used during the standoff between the suspect, Daniel Wolfe, 45, and police.

Police responded to 209 Liberty St. in the early afternoon of Nov. 18 after receiving a domestic disturbance call. Wolfe proceeded to barricade himself inside his upstairs apartment and reportedly shot at officers with a pellet gun.

The situation remained unchanged until the next morning when Wolfe finally surrendered. During the impasse, personnel from several county and state agencies assisted City Police.

Wolfe was put in Genesee County Jail where he awaits a court appearance set for this Thursday.

Meanwhile, Wilber said that Zanghi, 66, who lived downstairs, will be moving into another apartment later this week and is seeking the City’s assistance in removing his contaminated clothes.

“While I can’t say enough about the kindness of (City Manager) Marty Moore and (Assistant City Manager) Rachael Tabelski. I can’t say the same about the attitude of the police department,” said Wilber, who splits her time between Batavia and New Jersey.

She said that she asked if police could go in with their protective gloves and masks to put Zanghi’s clothes into garbage bags.

“They have the equipment to do this, but there are not willing to, which is disappointing,” she said.

Wilber said that Moore and another person will be meeting her at the Liberty Street home at 5 p.m. Tuesday to remove the clothes and other items.

“The city manager is willing to do this – to take his time after a full day’s work – because the city police won’t,” she said.

City Police Chief Shawn Heubusch, when contacted this morning, said he had no comment and referred the matter to the city manager’s office.

Moore, when asked for an update this morning, confirmed that he would be helping out on Tuesday "personally" (not in an official capacity) and said that talks with Wilber have been “cordial.”

He also noted that members of the police department have been reaching out individually to a number of causes during the holiday season.

As far as an insurance claim was concerned, Moore said Wilber “had not indicated which way she was going to go, but that the City deals with similar claims on a regular basis.”

Wilber said that her brother already has been helped by several organizations, including the Genesee Orleans Ministry of Concern, Catholic Charities, Ascension Parish and St. Padre Pio churches, Genesee Justice and Community Action of Orleans and Genesee.

“We want to keep this as fiscally responsible as possible – it’s our tax dollars (that contribute to getting donations),” she said. “Marty and Rachael are doing such a great job and the people in our community have stepped up, and we realize that money needs to go to other people, too.”

Friends of Michael Paladino set up GoFundMe account to aid his family

By Billie Owens


Friends of the late Michael R. Paladino Jr. have set up a GoFundMe account to aid his two children and their mother, his longtime partner Rebecca Fili.

The 43-year-old Batavia resident was killed the night of June 1 after he came to the rescue of a woman being assaulted on Ross Street, where he lived.

"This (was a) senseless act of violence ... (let's) support the family and promote peace," wrote Kristannette Locklear in an email to The Batavian.

To make a donation to the GoFundMe account, click here.

For previous coverage about the deadly incident, click here.

For his full obituary, click here.

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