Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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November 29, 2012

A Sunday breakfast will help couple’s mounting medical bills

LAGRANGE — Family, neighbors, friends and fellow church members will be eating breakfast while they bid on lots of goodies at LaGrange American Legion Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012,  from 8 to 11 a.m. The breakfast is a fundraiser to help the family of LaGrange businessman Jim Norris.

For decades Jim could be found either at his LaGrange business, The Combined Agency, or out on the golf course. Always ready with a laugh and a smile Jim was very active in the Shriners and other organizations in LaGrange County. But as of about three years ago Jim’s life took a dramatic and painful turn.

 In September of 2009, Jim wasn’t feeling well and after a few blood tests he was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia. After four months of chemotherapy it was decided he should try for a bone marrow transplant and for that he needed to be in Indianapolis.

 “After the transplant was successful and the cancer was in remission, we breathed a sigh of relief,” explained his wife of 44 years, Sharon.

Their relief was short-lived as Jim succumbed to another disease resulting from his transplanted cells attacking his normal cells, a disease known as Graft-vs-Host disease. Instead of Jim’s body rejecting the graft, the graft was attacking his body.

 The treatment for the new disease was massive doses of steroids and numerous drug combinations that produced toxic results. Dealing with one medical crisis after another, Jim closed his office. He worked for a short time at Shipshewana Insurance Agency — but eventually even that became too much for him. As a professional courtesy, the agency sends the family a check monthly as a referral fee for his old clients that switched to their agency. But nothing could touch the inevitable financial catastrophe.

Home foreclosure

 After foreclosure proceedings began,” Sharon said, “we did not know what we were going to do. Jim was in a hospital bed healing from his hip replacement (resulting from a fall). He couldn’t manage stairs and he was rapidly losing his eyesight, another side effect of the drugs.”  

Sharon works at Sturgis Bank and Trust in Sturgis, Mich. She had to make sure she remained employed to try to stave off foreclosure. Sharon asked herself, how were they going to manage?

Their daughter Jenny and her husband Troy Barker live next door with their two children. Jennifer cut her work hours so she could stay home and look after her father while Sharon worked. But Jennifer and Troy were planning on taking an even greater leap of faith. They put their home on the market. It sold immediately.

 They bought another single level home just down the road outside LaGrange. This home had a large out building which, with a little elbow grease, could easily be converted into a comfortable cottage for Jim and Sharon.

Now neighbors, including Bill Grant and others, are helping remodel the cottage for Jim and Sharon to move in.

 “Jim and I go way back,” Grant said.” We both go to The Calvary Chapel in Stroh and he is the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. Another thing, he is so upbeat. He is fighting this awful disease and one set-back after another coming at him. I have never heard a single ‘Oh woe is me’ come out of him. He is the eternal optimist.”

 Grant said Jim is that way at home as well. “You know how sometimes people lash out at the ones they love because they think they are allowed,” Grant said. “Well Jim isn’t like that — he is always positive and encouraging. He is a real fighter.”

 Duane Targgart of Wolcottville has known Jim for 20 years. They are members of the Shriner’s Chanter Singers. “We perform at Shrine events and a couple of nursing homes,” Targgart said. “We sing for the joy of singing and I miss him. Jim is always fun to be around and he is a man of strong faith. I was an only child and Jim has become the brother I never had.”

Terry and Susan Heavilon are old friends of the Norris family. “Terry is Jim’s fraternity brother from their days at Indiana University,” said Susan in a call from Florida. “We see each other every year. We stopped up to visit with them before we drove south this year. Jim is such an inspiration; he is so positive.”

 Susan told Terry she felt she could not justify ever complaining about anything that happens to her after witnessing all of the terrible things that have beset Sharon and Jim and yet they maintain their positive attitude. Jim is a man of strong faith and they are sure he will come out on top.

 For more information on the auction and breakfast, call Bob Meeks (260) 463-3198.

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