Jessica is Literally Starving to Death

Gastroparesis is exactly what it sounds like: paralysis of the gastrointestinal tract. Jessica Keller was diagnosed a few months ago, and in that time, she has lost about a third of her body weight. It doesn’t matter how much she eats. Her body gains neither nutrients nor calories.

I almost titled this post: “The Scariest Disease You’ve Never Heard Of.” This is not about an illness, though. This is about a human being. Several of them, actually.

Here’s a couple of them: Jessica on her wedding day

It was Jessica’s mother, Rona, who told me about her illness. I might never have known otherwise, as Jessica’s voice over a speakerphone does not sound like the voice of a sick person. She’s like her mother that way.

Rona lives in South Dakota. She’s proud to be Ojibwe in an area where, like me, almost everyone else descends from Scandinavian immigrants.* She is both accessible and wary, eager to share but careful not to let herself be taken advantage of. It’s a tenuous balance many of us spend a lifetime trying to achieve and/or maintain.

I spent about three weeks with Rona and her family. Though I was a stranger, they opened their home to me in exchange for a few hours of labor per day. We worked together and ate together. I reconnected with the natural world and gained some much-needed perspective.

While I was wrapped up in myself, I overheard snatches of conversations, phone calls, and anxieties voiced by Rona’s youngest daughter, who is twelve – an age when most of us are unable to fully comprehend the reality of death. At night, the family prayed together for Jessica to be healed, sending up smoke through burning sage along with friends and family from across the globe. This was how I gathered that Jessica was facing something more serious than a parasite.

Jessica recently

“We will all die,” Rona gently told her youngest one evening as they washed dishes together. “I’m going to die someday. I’m not saying Jessica is definitely going to die soon, but she will someday and probably before you do.”

This seems like a much better thing to say to a kid than the common, “Don’t worry. She’ll be okay. God has a plan, etc.” She’s twelve, not stupid. It’s important for her to understand that sometimes even the strongest people get sick and die.

Jessica is strong. You can hear it in her voice when she makes fun of Canadian drivers. You can see it in photographs of her going camping with her husband and their five children despite her body’s growing weakness. In fact, she was an active parent up until a few weeks ago. As of this writing, she is bedridden most of the time, with her husband at her side.


Her kids, meanwhile, are staying with Grandma (Rona), Grandpa, and their young aunt. So that household has just about tripled in size. Meanwhile, Jessica has hopped hospitals and is currently seeing a specialist in one of my best facilities in the country. All of this, however, comes at a great financial price. Their home in Idaho sits empty, but they still have utilities and a mortgage to pay. Medical bills, air travel, and taking time off of work have all left the Kellers with a tremendous financial burden to deal with on top of their current fears and anxieties.

Jessica’s brother, Pascal, who is himself married with a baby on the way, has set up a GoFundMe to help offset these costs. If everyone who reads this post gives $4, it should cover about a week of her lost income.

It’s very sad that a young, otherwise healthy woman with a large family cannot get the medical help she needs without dozens (if not hundreds) of people taking up a collection. If she were a little less outgoing and/or had no family, she may not have made it this far. Many others don’t.

But we can help save Jessica. We can help her and her family escape illness and its subsequent poverty. We can forego an extra PBR this weekend in exchange for some peace of mind for a family in the midst of a crisis.

Consider in an investment because I get the feeling that, will a little assistance, Jessica is going to fight her way through this. Her updates reveal a positive attitude: “labs tomorrow to check that I’m stable still, had a fun filled weekend with an old friend who came to help me smile! Went on some adventures (short ones) with my hunni and Angelina. Ready for Monday, essentially standing in line for an earlier specialist appointment. Down a few more pounds but hoping labs will be okay.

That’s from her GoFundMe page, where you can learn more about her illness, treatment, and prognosis.


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Shortly before hospitalization. All photos courtesy of Rona.

Love and health to all.

*During my time in South Dakota, several white people asked questions or made comments about “The Indians” as though they were a homogenous entity. While insensitive, these people weren’t intending to be racist or disparaging, so I didn’t get upset. I did, however, start referring to all the white people there as “The Lutherans.” It’s a term I’ve come to like, and I think we should adopt it for white people in this general area:

Map made using image from


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