Mommy and Daddy have matching “owies” on their tummies.
It isn’t easy to explain a kidney transplant to a 2-year-old, so Ashley Friis chose terminology her toddler, Aidynn, could comprehend.
Those “owies” will keep Mommy alive.
Friis and her fiance, Josh Groetken, got “owies” after Groetken donated his kidney to Friis last month.
The transplant ended Friis’ nearly two-year search for a kidney.
The Gazette talked to Friis in March while she was searching for a donor for her second kidney transplant.
Shortly after the story was published, Friis and Groetken learned Groetken was a match and an “ideal donor” for Friis.
It turns out, the kidney Friis was so desperately seeking was under her roof the whole time.
Friis and Groetken earlier had toyed with the idea of getting Groetken tested to be a donor but waited because they were concerned about leaving their daughters with limited access to Mommy and Daddy if both had surgery.
They also feared 2-year-old Aidynn, Friis’ biological daughter, might one day be diagnosed with the same rare disease that caused Friis’ kidneys to fail. They wanted Groetken to be a donor for Aidynn, if necessary.
Friis has atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome, a rare disease that causes red blood cells to break down and kidneys to fail.
She was diagnosed with the disease in 2009, when it caused both her kidneys to fail. Two years after the diagnosis, Friis received a kidney from her mother, she said.
Doctors didn’t know in 2009 the disease could come back, but seven years later, when Friis was considering getting pregnant, doctors knew more.
“They expected nothing but the best for this (pregnancy). But someone along the line should have said, ‘Hey, you know, your (a)HUS can come back with stressors like pregnancy,’” Friis said.
The couple finally gave in and got Groetken tested, hoping that if Aidynn is ever diagnosed with aHUS—a disease believed to have a hereditary link—medical advances will prevent her from needing a kidney donation, Friis said.
Once they learned Groetken was a match, there was no question whether to go through with the transplant. It became a matter of “how,” not “if.”
“Now we are kicking ourselves for waiting so long,” Friis said.
Friis and Groetken make jokes that a piece of Groetken is always with her, Friis said.
Her recovery took longer than his. He was in the hospital for about a day and returned to work after about a week. She was in the hospital for three days and did not return to work for about a month.
Before the transplant, Friis spent about nine hours a week in dialysis and had bi-weekly blood infusions in Madison.
Spending so much time away from her family made Friis feel isolated, and she felt she was missing out on valuable family time.
For Groetken, it was difficult to not have Friis home with him at night with the kids. He has missed having alone time with his fiancee over the last two years.
“I don’t know if it (the surgery) brought us closer because we were already so close,” Groekten said. “It gives us more freedom to enjoy our lives.”
Groetken is excited to have date nights with his fiancee again and to hopefully travel with his family.
Dialysis weighed on Friis for two years, she said. It affected most parts of her life, including what she ate.
One of the most exciting changes since the surgery is that she can eat potatoes again.
It sounds simple, but small lifestyle changes are “big deals,” Friis said.
Friis takes more medications since surgery, intended to keep her aHUS away, she said.
A month after surgery, Friis returned to work as a paraprofessional at Adams Elementary School. She is still tired and in some pain but overall is feeling better than before surgery.
Groetken’s recovery happened quickly. He was in pain and bedridden for about a week. After that week, he was back to work and feeling good, he said.
“I would highly recommend anyone who wants to donate to go ahead; it is not that bad,” Groetken said. “... It is a wonderful thing. It really helps change someone’s life.”
Friis’ parents helped the couple care for the kids when they were both on bed-rest, and everything went more smoothly than expected, Friis said.
She is thankful to close the chapter of her life that was full of pain and uncertainty. She is ready to move on with her family.
“I am just really grateful to have a kidney and can be a part of my life again instead of waiting on the sidelines.”
Iowa farmer Tim Bardole survived years of low crop prices and rising costs by cutting back on fertilizer and herbicides and fixing broken-down equipment rather than buying new. When President Donald Trump’s trade war with China made a miserable situation worse, Bardole used up any equity his operation had and started investing in hogs in hopes they’ll do better than crops.
A year later, the dispute is still raging and soybeans hit a 10-year-low. But Bardole says he supports his president more today than he did when he cast a ballot for Trump in 2016, skeptical he would follow through on his promises.
“He does really seem to be fighting for us,” Bardole says, “even if it feels like the two sides are throwing punches and we’re in the middle, taking most of the hits.”
Trump won the presidency by winning rural America, in part by pledging to use his business savvy and tough negotiating skills to take on China and put an end to trade practices that have hurt farmers for years. While the prolonged fight has been devastating to an already-struggling agriculture industry, there’s little indication Trump is paying a political price. But there’s a big potential upside if he can get a better deal—and little downside if he continues to get credit for trying for the farmers caught in the middle. It’s a calculation Trump recognizes heading into a reelection bid where he needs to hold on to farm states like Iowa and Wisconsin and is looking to flip others, like Minnesota.
A March CNN/Des Moines Register poll of registered Republicans in Iowa found 81% approved of how Trump is handling his job, and 82% had a favorable view of the president, an increase of 5 points since December. About two-thirds said they’d definitely vote to re-elect him. The poll had a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.
A February poll by the same organizations found 46% of Iowans approved of the job Trump was doing—his highest approval rating since taking office—while 50% said they disapprove. The margin of error was 3.5 percentage points.
Many farmers are lifelong Republicans who like other things Trump has done, such as reining in the EPA and tackling illegal immigration, and believe he’s better for their interests than most Democrats even on his worst day. They give him credit for doing something previous presidents of both parties mostly talked about. And now that they’ve struggled for this long, they want to see him finish the job—and soon.
“We are the frontline soldiers getting killed as this trade war goes on,” said Paul Jeschke, who grows corn and soybeans in northern Illinois, where he’s about to plant his 45th crop.
“I’m unhappy and I think most of us are unhappy with the situation. But most of us understand the merits,” he added. “And it’s not like anyone else would be better. The smooth-talking presidents we’ve had recently—they certainly didn’t get anything done.”
When the trade war started last summer, China targeted its first round of tariffs on producers in agricultural and manufacturing states that were crucial to Trump’s 2016 victory, such as Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Particularly hard hit were producers of soybeans, the country’s largest farm export.
The most recent round of trade talks between the Trump administration and China broke up earlier this month without an agreement, after Trump accused China of backing out on agreed-to parts of a deal and hiked tariffs on $200 billion of imports from China. China imposed retaliatory tariff hikes on $60 billion of American goods, and in the U.S. the price of soybeans fell to a 10-year low on fears of a protracted trade war. U.S. officials then listed $300 billion more of Chinese goods for possible tariff hikes.
As China vowed to “fight to the finish,” Trump used Twitter to rally the farming community.
“Our great Patriot Farmers will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of what is happening now,” Trump tweeted. “Hopefully China will do us the honor of continuing to buy our great farm product, the best, but if not your Country will be making up the difference based on a very high China buy.”
He added: “The Farmers have been ‘forgotten’ for many years. Their time is now!”
To partially offset the plunge in sales caused by the tariffs, Trump has promised an aid package, some $15 billion for farmers and ranchers, following $11 billion in relief payments last year.
Beside the help prompted by the tariff dispute, a farm bill that Congress approves every five years provides farmers with hundreds of millions in additional federal aid. The subsidies have remained relatively stable, with the latest farm bill approved in December. Most of the aid helps growers of the largest crops, including corn and soybeans. Farmers also benefit from billions of dollars annually in federal insurance subsidies.
It has been six years since farmers did better than break even on corn, and five years since they made money off soybeans.
U.S. net farm income, a commonly used measure of profits, has plunged 45 percent since a high of $123.4 billion in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reflecting American farmers’ struggle to return to the profitability seen earlier in the decade. Chapter 12 bankruptcy filings for farm operations in the upper Midwest have doubled since June 2014, when commodity prices began to drop. The hardest hit were farms and dairy operations in Wisconsin, a state that supported Democrats for president for most of recent history before backing Trump and that will be a fierce 2020 battleground.
“It’s awful expensive to put a crop in,” said Morie Hill, looking over countless green shoots peeking up from his fields in central Iowa. He isn’t sure why more farmers haven’t been forced out.
“Everyone I know is squeezing and doing everything they can, trying to go further with less,” he said.
Brent Renner, who farms with his father in northern Iowa, said while there’s strong support for Trump in their area, frustration is growing. Farming friends regularly check Twitter to see what Trump is saying, and how it might move the market.
“I don’t know how many farming friends I’ve had who’ve said ‘Why can’t someone just take his phone away?’” Renner said. “It’s impossible to think he hasn’t lost support at some level, but what that level is nobody knows.”
Patty Judge, a Democratic former Iowa lieutenant governor and state agriculture secretary, agreed people in Iowa haven’t rushed to move away from Trump. But she thinks voters will be ready for a change in 2020—and a president who better understands the country’s role in international trade.
“It’s very important to us and to have gone into a trade war without a plan, without an exit strategy, is dangerous and wrong and I think Iowans are going to understand that before the next election,” she said.
The 2018 midterms showed Democrats’ difficulties outside metro areas. AP VoteCast, a national survey of more than 115,000 voters, found rural and small-town residents cast 35% of midterm ballots; 56% of those voted for Republican House candidates, compared with 41% for Democrats. Among small-town and rural white voters the advantage was greater, tilting 63-35 for Republicans.
Jeshke said he gives Trump credit for rolling back regulations that have made it tougher and more expensive for new herbicides to be approved, and for his proposed changes to the Waters of the U.S., an Obama-era environmental measure. Under the act, Jeshke said he needed government approval to mow some areas of his property or make changes to manmade lakes where kids go fishing.
“And I dug them!” he said.
Jeshke says most farmers are more concerned about getting the situation solved than pointing fingers. But if they were to place blame, most of it would be on China, and the rest would be on previous presidents who could have solved the trade imbalances more easily 15 or 20 years ago.
One thing he knows for sure about Trump: “If he rolls over now, we’ll never be able to hold them accountable.”
Renner says farmers are used to having things happen that aren’t in their control—the weather, for example—but finding a way through. It’s a quality he says is clearly on display now.
“We’re an optimistic people,” he said. “We’ll keep our chins up and keep moving ahead.”
Donald Robert Farberg
William A. Grenzow
Carol J. Mair
It’s hard to find anyone on Janesville’s south side who isn’t excited—or at least intrigued—by Rock County’s plans to move all its social services into the former Pick ‘n Save supermarket on Center Avenue.
The move would mean hundreds more people a day coming and going along the south side’s main commerce strip—a potential boon for businesses in the convenience store and restaurant-heavy stretch of Center Avenue.
But it’s also hard to find a southsider who doesn’t muse on the thing they say remains conspicuously absent on the south side since the Pick ‘n Save closed in late 2017: A bona fide, fresh food grocery store.
The Rock County Board hasn’t yet approved the county’s proposal to buy the 130,000 square-foot Pick ‘n Save building, and the county might not move workers into the former supermarket for at least another year, but already there are signs of chess pieces moving along the Center Avenue corridor.
Last week, Jim Pritchard, a local locksmith, was changing out locks on the former Clark gas station and express mart at 1747 Center Ave., which is directly southwest of the still vacant Pick ‘n Save.
The station’s electronic marquee advertises gas prices, and a sign below reads “WE ARE OPEN CLARK.” The statement is not true, or at least, it hasn’t been for months.
The digital readouts on the station’s self-service pumps are blank, and inside, there’s just a smattering of expired candy, snacks and cigarettes and stacks of local newspapers that were printed sometime in 2018.
The station closed several months after the Pick ‘n Save closed.
Pritchard was swapping locks on the gas station doors while a manager who said he works at the nearby BP gas station at Center and Kellogg avenues looked on.
The manager didn’t want to be named because he said he wasn’t authorized to give information, but he said the former Clark has been closed for months. He indicated his BP station’s owner is in the process of trying to buy the station.
The manager said he didn’t have details, and the owner of the Center Avenue BP station didn’t offer The Gazette comment on plans for the former Clark.
Pritchard, a southsider himself, said he wondered whether action at the former Clark is now occurring because of the county’s sudden plans at the Pick ‘n Save, although thought that simply be “coincidence.”
One thing’s for sure, Pritchard said, the county’s purchase of the Pick ‘n Save won’t immediately involve a new grocery store.
He realizes nobody promised a grocery store would return to the Pick ‘n Save, and in fact, most local economic officials said they were skeptical it would happen, even before the property was sold and initially rezoned for light industrial use.
“I think everyone was hoping Woodman’s or somebody might want to do a second store down here, except you see that’s not happening,” Pritchard said. “It’s too bad somebody doesn’t want to do a grocery store, because we need one. Not everybody on the south side wants to drive a couple miles at least to go to the store, and some people just can’t.”
Rock County Executive Josh Smith said in interviews earlier this month that the county’s reasons for buying the Pick ‘n Save property aren’t primarily for economic development.
But he said extra foot traffic and activity that could be generated from a couple hundred more county workers and untold clients at the former store would likely qualify as an economic “assist” for the south side.
Smith said it’s possible that the western one-third of the 750-spot parking lot—a three or four acre portion that’s closest to Center Avenue—would be sold off by the county, possibly for commercial development.
But he said it would be the “wrong impression” to think that the county’s plans to buy and re-use the Pick ‘n Save were driven by future development prospects along Center Avenue frontage.
Smith told The Gazette last week it’s possible that all those who now work at the Rock County Job Center on Center Avenue would relocate a few blocks northeast to the former Pick ‘n Save store—including a major tenant at the job center, the state’s Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.
That would mean the Job Center, which the county also owns could be emptied out and put on the market.
The Pick ‘n Save, which is twice the size of the job center, would become a “one stop shop” for social services and job placement. The two facets of county services often have “crossover” clients, Smith said.
Argtim Shabani, owner of the Eagle Inn Family Restaurant, said he’s excited about the prospect of the county moving its offices, even if some of the county’s workers would be relocating from the job center to the Pick ‘n Save, essentially a game of musical chairs for those workers. Yet, there would be plenty of new workers moving in from the social services offices now of the city’s far north side—and more foot traffic overall along that corridor.
The Eagle Inn is located east off Center Avenue, about the same distance from the job center and the former Pick ‘n Save.
Shabani said if he gained even a couple dozen new patrons a day from county social services operations migrating here, he would consider it a boon.
“It’s more people. That’s the idea. The other thing is that if they’re people from all over town working there, then their friends, neighbors hear about the restaurant. It’s almost a new group of people, you don’t know how many.”
Shabani, who took over operations of the restaurant from his father four years ago, said he’s lived through the dropoff in customers in the wake of the nearby General Motors assembly plant closing. But more recently, the lack of Pick ‘n Save actually gave him a little boost in business.
“Everybody was complaining about, ‘Oh, my God, we have to go all the way to the other side of town for groceries, they said it’s more convenient to eat at a nearby restaurant more often,” Shabani said.
“I could see it myself, because I know all the regular customers. I started seeing them more often, you know. Twice a day, three times a day. I say, really? Like, come on, you know? But, Yeah. So many.”
A National supermarket analyst told The Gazette in an interview in 2017, when the Pick ‘n Save closed, that it’s becoming increasingly unheard of for grocery store chains in small or mid-size markets to develop or re-develop large-scale properties like the 130,000 Pick ‘n Save for use as supermarket.
Gale Price, the city of Janesville’s economic development manager, has said that there was little interest in re-use of the former Pick ‘n Save as a grocery store, even before it was sold and re-zoned for industrial use. He’s said that it’s likely a grocery store development on the south side would be much smaller in scale—probably 70,000 square feet or smaller.
Shabani, who is Macedonian, said he’s thought about opening a small grocery store on the south side. If he did, he’d focus on eastern European ingredients. He said that would fill a niche in the market for specialty food.
He said he’s got his hands full, though, with the Eagle Inn and another restaurant he recently opened in Crystal Lake, Illinois.
But Shabani said last year, he was scouting a few possible locations for a small grocery store.
“I never worked in a grocery store. I don’t know how it goes. I kind of need someone to work with me for that. I kind of I kind of would need someone that can start it for me, and I haven’t been able to find the right person,” he said.