This article was written by Julie Ashton.
No matter the current price of milk, or if a pandemic is happening, the agriculture industry’s support for their own is unmatched. Whether it be a barn fire, farm accident, natural disaster, or medical issue, our industry steps up to help those in need. In October 2019, Darryl and Sarah Markus experienced the outpouring of support from those far and wide and have continued to be uplifted by the ag community in their greatest time of need. While the family’s future is still uncertain, they are selflessly giving back and inviting the dairy community to join them in their efforts.
Darryl Markus is no stranger to the Canadian dairy industry. He grew up on his parent’s dairy, Markvale Holsteins, a two-time Master Breeder herd in western Ontario. Since 2007, Darryl has owned cows in several different locations, until he and his wife Sarah, recently purchased a farm in Ingersol, 5 minutes from the home farm. After meeting on a Christian dating website, Darryl and Sarah were married in 2009 and started the Markridge Holsteins and Jerseys prefix. They own 60 milk cows with 130 total head and farm 180 acres.
On October 28, 2019, they were ready to welcome their 6th child, a seemingly healthy baby boy. When Brooks was born, the doctors were alerted by his blueish grey coloring and difficulty breathing. “It took him a good 20-30 minutes to really breath on his own,” Darryl recalled. “The next morning after throwing up, his doctors feared a blockage and he was immediately transferred to Children’s Hospital in London.”
For the doctors in London, Brooks was a bit of a mystery. Numerous tests were performed along with constant monitoring, which showed that Brooks was having unexplained bradycardia episodes, which is something common in premature babies, which Brooks was not.
“With each alarm as his heart rate dropped, it felt like mine was stopping too,” Sarah said. On day three, Brooks declined overnight and was intubated.
“The MRI was negative, the barium enema was clear of blockages, the EEG was negative — all of which we were thankful for, but he was becoming known as the ‘mystery baby,’ which was not very reassuring!” commented Sarah. Through all this, he had never eaten or had a bowel movement on his own. A follow-up X-ray showed he might have Hirschsprung’s Disease, a rare disorder characterized by a lack of ganglion cells in the colon causing the muscles to be unable to contract. After a biopsy revealed this diagnosis, an ileostomy was performed. “The ileostomy brought a strange peace. Hopefully, the worst was behind us. For a few days post-op, it seemed that might be the case, but that came to a screeching halt,” recalled Sarah.
Sarah and Darryl were hopeful the ileostomy would resolve the bradycardia issue, however, this was not the case. The respirologist suggested a sleep study, and those results pointed to a rare condition known as Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome. On January 7, 2020, this diagnosis was confirmed after genetic testing. “CCHS is a rare disease of the central and autonomic nervous system. People with the disorder take shallow breaths or even stop breathing typically during sleep,” Sarah explained. “This causes a build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood and results in low oxygen and is fatal if left untreated.” Only 1300 children worldwide have been diagnosed with CCHS according the Darryl. It was also determined that the Hirschsprung’s was a result of the CCHS, and only 300 children have that combination, making Brooks’ case even more difficult to manage.
“Our respirologist had previously worked at Children’s Hospital in Montreal and Toronto and had studied CCHS previously,” commented Darryl. “He’s talked to an entire network of doctors in Ontario, Chicago and Cincinnati to determine the course of action for Brooks.”
After Brooks’ diagnosis, he had surgery for a tracheostomy and g-tube and the next weeks were filled with training: learning how to do trach changes, running the ventilator, feeding through the g-tube, and what to do in cases of emergency. Brooks was eventually discharged on February 25 and came home to five very protective big brothers. “Our boys are so good with Brooks,” remarked Darryl. “They have learned so much compassion because of him and are just the best big brothers.”
“Sometimes the worry and anxiety get the best of me, but we are learning with each day to live in the present and thank God for this little miracle!” remarked Sarah. Since his discharge, Brooks has had four additional stays at Children’s in London – one due to H Flu and required extra oxygen to pull through and the others due to his Hirschsprung’s. He’s spent just over 180 total inpatient days in his first year.
From their time spent at Children’s and the amazing care that their entire family received, Darryl had the idea on how the family could give back. “Since January, I’ve had an idea to do something for the hospital but didn’t decide until late fall that it would be a sale,” commented Darryl. “We can’t thank them enough for what they did for us and I’ve wondered how I could give back.”
Darryl immediately talked to Russell Gammon, who has been Brooks’ biggest cheerleader since the start. “I don’t know what it is about Brooks,” said Russell, “but his story has really spoken to me.” Russell, who knew the family in passing prior to this, has become very close to Darryl, Sarah and of course Brooks. “It’s just phenomenal how people can come together during a challenging time,” commented Russell. “Our industry has cutthroat competition, but we can all rally together when we need to.”
On November 13, the Calves for a Cause Facebook page was created, bringing Darryl’s idea to life. “We are hosting an online sale on March 26-27 with 100% of the commission being donated to Children’s Health Foundation of London,” stated Darryl. “Our goal is to raise as much money as possible for the hospital. London is a smaller facility and doesn’t have huge donors like Toronto and Montreal do, so every penny counts.”
“Anytime you are going through a difficult time, it’s nice to know that people care,” commented Darryl. And from the response that the sale has already garnered, people certainly care. “This year has been trying for everyone,” remarked Russell. “And we desperately needed something to be excited about, and the sale has done this for so many already.”
Darryl first reached out to his good friends at Kingsway Farm to get their take on the sale. “Darryl has been a good friend of ours since he lived near us,” commented Ethan McMillen. “Seeing what he’s gone through and knowing this sale will help other families is really great. If you put yourself in their shoes, it just makes you want to help even more. It’s really great what he and Sarah and doing and we’re excited to help in our small way.”
The consignor list is growing daily, with exciting animals already committed to the sale. Donors have also stepped forward to assist with sale expenses. Several of the consignors have already committed more than the 10% commission that will be charged, with four consignors donating the entire proceeds of their animals to the sale.
Nick Sarbacker and CattleClub.com LLC has graciously donated his services for the online auction. “It’s going to a great cause,” commented Nick, “and I’m excited to be a part of it!” With the auction help online, Russell believes there could be international attraction. Darryl also commented about the outreach possible, “Everyone is connected to someone who has used Children’s Hospital, or their corresponding system where they live.”
While the Calves for a Cause sale may be months away, the Facebook page will be a constant source of sale information but also videos produced by Children’s Hospital. “We are excited to have the Children’s Health Foundation on board providing us with great videos to show exactly what our sale is supporting!” commented Darryl. There will be videos highlighting Brooks and his team, along with other families’ stories.
“The support from the ag industry and our church community has be incredible,” Darryl remarked. “We’ve learned that you can’t take anything for granted and every day that Brooks is here is a gift. We can’t begin to thank everyone enough and just hope the first Calves for a Cause sale is a success and leads to many more in the years to come.”