Jake and Juliana Wenger thought that their son Jaden’s return to in-person livestock shows at the fair would be filled with jubilation and glee as he took to the ring once more, but a sudden illness followed by devastating news last week has the family leaning on the local agriculture community for hope.
Jaden hadn’t been feeling his best prior to swine week at the Stanislaus County Fair, his father Jake said, but the family figured it was just your regular, run-of-the-mill cold. They had noticed some bruising on Jaden in recent weeks as well, but he was a young, active boy getting large animals ready for fair. The bruises made sense, but leading up to the fair he also complained of something hindering his vision.
The Wengers took their eldest of three children to the doctor and were told he could have popped a blood vessel behind his eye while at a recent camp. Some days later, an urgent care physician said he may have an ear infection.
Fast forward to last Thursday — the day after Jaden’s 12th birthday and two days before the swine auction — and the young Wood Colony 4-H member was extremely fatigued after showing his pigs. When they went to a retinal specialist to see about Jaden’s eye later that day, what happened next was a whirlwind, Jake said.
“As soon as that doctor saw him, he said this is not to do with his eyes, this is something that's systematic,” Jake said. “He said this is something in his system and he needs to be seen immediately.”
Hospital tests at Memorial Medical Center showed Jaden’s white blood cell numbers were through the roof while his hemoglobin count was extremely low. From Modesto, he was airlifted to Children’s Valley Hospital in Madera where the Wengers received the news that Jaden has acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that is rare in children and typically affects adults.
Stuck in the ICU over that weekend, Jaden missed the swine auction and has months more to go in the hospital. Still, Jake said, his son is in high spirits, joking with his family and feeling much better after his first treatments for the cancer.
What happened while they were in the hospital, however, is something the Wengers will never forget.
The Stanislaus County Fair sold Jaden’s 4-H Reserve Champion hog at the auction for him at $25/lb for a total of $5,800 — and then the community came together to donate $25,992 worth of add-ons after hearing about Jaden’s diagnosis. Auction add-ons are a way for businesses or families to support an exhibitor directly. They don’t receive meat or an animal in return; it’s solely a donation.
According to the fair, the average add-on amount for swine this year was $173.13. The fair also did not collect any commission for facilitating the sale of Jaden’s hog.
“The entire fair family is saddened that one of our own is going through such a difficult time, but we are also extremely proud of the community and the support they are able to provide the Wengers,”
Stanislaus County Fair CEO Matt Cranford said. “We wish Jaden a speedy recovery and are looking forward to seeing him back at next year's fair."
The Wengers are still waiting on next steps in Jaden’s treatment, and the extra help will make life easier for them as the family splits time between the hospital in Madera where their son is receiving care.
Jake, who serves as Stanislaus County Farm Bureau Board President, said the support from the fair community — from Newman to Salida and everywhere in between — has been nothing short of breathtaking.
“It's a countywide community and I’m looking forward to seeing who donated so I can start sending thank you cards,” Jake said. “There are people at the fair who are from Oakdale, Riverbank, Turlock, Denair – it’s all over and that’s what makes the ag community special. We all come together for the fair, but we all come together as families. We all come together for our kids.”
The link to donate to Jaden’s swine add-ons will be live through July 31 and those who would like to donate to the Wengers can do so by visiting https://auction.showorks.cloud/fair/stanis. To stay up to date on Jaden’s fight, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/jadenwenger.