Well-known fruit farmer fighting equine encephalitis

Bill Tecihman, a third-generation owner of Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm in Pipestone Township, has been hospitalized with eastern equine encephalitis, which is spread by mosquitoes and causes swelling of the brain. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family with medical expenses.

EAU CLAIRE — Bill Teichman, a third-generation farmer and owner of Tree-Mendus Fruit Farms in Pipestone Township, is fighting eastern equine encephalitis, and a GoFundMe page has been set up to assist his family with medical expenses.

"He and his wife, Monica, have dedicated their heart and soul to continuing the tradition of bringing families from far and wide to come enjoy a day of U-pick, waffle boats, picnics and the annual International Cherry Pit Spit," the page states. "Bill is one of the most hardworking, genuine, intelligent, quirky, kind and strong individuals around. He is a loving, husband, father and friend, and inspires his children everyday."

Eastern equine encephalitis is a rare disease that is spread by mosquito bites. It is seeing a resurgence in western Michigan and other states. A Kalamazoo man recently died from the illness. Teichman's case is one of three reported in Michigan, and the first in Berrien County in more than two decades.

The GoFundMe page says Teichman was admitted to the hospital on Aug. 16 with what was later diagnosed as eastern equine encephalitis, which causes swelling of the brain. After his symptoms worsened, he was transferred to a neurology intensive care unit in Grand Rapids, and then to a long-term acute care hospital.

"There are small signs of improvement that give us hope, but we know this is a very long road ahead of us," the GoFundMe page says.

The effort has a goal of raising $50,000, and around $11,000 had been pledged as of Thursday, one day after the page went up. People also offered words of support on the GoFundMe page.

"We have been going to Tree-Mendus for 3 generations! I wish him a speedy recovery!" one individual offered.

"He's a major part of our Community but most importantly he's a husband and father. They need money and many prayers," another wrote.

The farm was launched as Skyline Orchards in the 1920s by Teichman's grandparents, William and Leone, according to the farm's website. It was purchased by his parents, Herb and Liz, in 1969 and was expanded to cover 450 acres for a U-pick orchard that became Tree-Mendus Farm.

Along with the fruit picking and tours, the farm is the site of the annual Cherry Pit Spitting Championship, started in 1974 and held on the first Saturday in July. It is the only cherry pit-spitting contest recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Early symptoms of the disease occur about four to 10 days after exposure and can include headache, high fever, chills, body and joint aches. It can develop into severe encephalitis, or brain swelling, which can cause tremors, seizures and paralysis. Those who experience these symptoms are urged to seek medical attention.

Three deaths from the illness have been reported in Michigan, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Those over 50 and under 15 are at most risk of contracting the illness, as are those who work or play outdoors. Recommended precautions against mosquito bites that might carry the disease include applying insect repellant, wearing longer sleeves/pants, and avoiding time outdoors during peak mosquito activity at dawn and dusk.

The mosquitoes are found in wet, swampy areas. Residents can reduce contact with mosquitoes by removing standing water in pools, tires and other containers in their yards.

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak