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'It's been a challenge': Sudden illness forces couple to sell longstanding Fargo cleaning business

Janet and Darren Baumgartner. Special to The Forum1 / 2
Darren Baumgartner is pictured here in 2015 at Sweeney Cleaners in Fargo. He and his wife, Janet, recently sold the business in order to cover hospital bills related to his battle with Guillain Barre Syndrome. Forum file photo2 / 2

FARGO—Darren and Janet Baumgartner know just how quickly life can change.

For them, it happened in early March.

One day, Darren Baumgartner was shoveling snow.

A day later, he woke up with a back ache.

Two days after that he could barely move.

Tests showed he had Guillain Barre Syndrome, also known as French Polio, a rare autoimmune disorder that affects the nervous system, and in Baumgartner's case caused paralysis.

Treatment was started to slow the disease and Baumgartner started rehab.

However, in late March he was back in the intensive care unit with pneumonia.

He was given a tracheostomy and a feeding tube.

In early April, he experienced acute kidney trouble and he was put on dialysis.

Today, his lungs and kidneys are better and there is no more dialysis or pneumonia.

He is slowly being weaned off a ventilator, but doctors say his recovery will be long and slow.

The care and treatment is expensive. To help pay for it, the couple recently sold their business, Sweeney Cleaners, to Camelot Cleaners.

Darren and Janet took over Sweeney Cleaners the early 2000s following the death of Darren's father, Frank.

Frank and his wife, Elaine, Darren Baumgartner's mother, purchased the business in 1980.

It's unknown exactly what precipitated Darren Baumgartner's illness, but Janet Baumgartner said they've been told an infection may have been to blame.

"Google says 80 percent of the people turn out fine," Janet Baumgartner said, adding that in some cases involving Guillain Barre Syndrome the autoimmune response calms and the nervous system starts to recover.

Meanwhile, she said they are trying their best to adjust to their new situation.

"We were inseparable. We did everything together. It's been a challenge for me, I've learned a lot of things I never thought I'd have to," Janet Baumgartner said.

She spends time with Darren every day while working full time and says the experience has been "a tremendous financial burden."

El Zagal Shriners and the Optimist Club of Fargo, both organizations Darren Baumgartner has been deeply involved with, are planning a benefit for the family Sept. 29 at El Zagal.

Donations are also being accepted at a benefit account set up for the family at Bell Bank.

The FM RedHawks organization has also been helping the family, Janet Baumgartner said, adding they have been season ticket holders for many years.

In addition, a Go Fund Me page has been set up, and recently the pledges totaled nearly $8,000.

"Darren has a servant heart and is always helping others, but now he needs our help," a posting on the Go Fund Me page stated.

"Please prayerfully consider making a special gift at this time. Your partnership of any gift amount makes it possible to help offset medical expenses. Together, we can give hope and encouragement to Darren as he has done the same for so many over the years," the posting said.

The page can be found here: www.gofundme.com/darren-baumgartner-needs-your-help.

Dave Olson
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