MARSHALL - For most people, the mosquito-born West Nile virus is no more than a nuisance. Some health officials say we've probably all had it at one time or another and passed it off as just feeling a bit under the weather or perhaps a mild flu.
But for some reason the disease hits a very few people very hard.
On Aug. 10, Norma Renken, who lives on a farm near Arco, was admitted to Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center with a severe case of West Nile. Two days later she was moved to Sioux Falls, S.D., where she remains today.
Pictured in front of the row of combines are back row left to right: Dale Richmond, Mike Hauswedell, Dennis Renken, Les Blegen, Carsten Madsen, Ron Madsen, Randy Noble, and Christopher Noble. Front row: Rion Moat and Izach Harris.
"There's no real explanation," said Norma Renken's daughter, Billie Moat. "They say it could have been building up in her system from multiple bites, she could have a weakened immune system, or she could have had it for a long time."
Norma Renken has been in critical care, breathing through a tracheal tube, and has only been able to talk again the past week.
"Once she was admitted in Sioux Falls it didn't take them long to figure it out because of the other cases they've had," said another of Norma Renken's daughters, Tami Harris.
Norma's husband, Terry, has been with her since she was admitted.
This happened at the worst possible time for the Renkens - right before harvest. But the sole bright spot in this has been the way the neighbors have rallied around.
"My dad's a small grain farmer, wheat and beans," Moat said. "He was able to get the wheat in, but he wasn't able to be home for the bean harvest. So he called a neighbor who does custom farming to hire him and he took it from there."
The neighbor was Randy Noble.
"They contacted us to get the bean harvest and I contacted five or six neighbors," Noble said. "They came up with five combines, three trucks and one grain cart."
The harvest was done in four hours, according to Moat. But it didn't cost the Renkens a thing.
Dan Renken is Terry Renken's nephew and one of the people called. Dan's father Dennis Renken drove a combine and Dan hauled loads into town.
"Basically Randy decided to round up some friends, and they donated their time and equipment," Dan Renken said.
Terry and Norma Renken didn't want to be interviewed for this article, but wanted the community to know about how their neighbors rallied around in a difficult time.
"We've been on the township board with Norma for more than 20 years and they're in our church," Noble said. "We're taking it a little at a time, whatever they need."
According to Harris, Norma Renken's prognosis is good, because she was healthy to begin with.
"They still feel she'll come back 100 percent," Harris said. "They say it depends on the person, but they expect it to be a long time."
In the meantime, the Renkens' friends and neighbors are making sure everything is taken care of at home.
"We've got neighbors who are absolutely wonderful," Harris said.