Chores, Selectboard, Illness, Legislature Keep Couple Busy
Longtime dairy farmer and Windsor-Orange-1 Representative David Ainsworth has been unable to appear in the Vermont House this session due to ongoing health concerns stemming from complications following a kidney transplant two years ago. The complications began about a year ago, when Ainsworth developed what his wife— Peggy Ainsworth—referred to as “an old farmer walk,” a condition she assumed was natural for the 63-year-old South Royalton resident.
Peggy Ainsworth feeds a young calf at Westland Farm on Wednesday morning in the absence of her husband, dairy farmer and state legislator David Ainsworth, who has been hospitalized for much of the winter. (Herald / Bob Eddy)
Shortly afterward, Ainsworth noticed tingling in his extremities and had to stop milking one day “because he couldn’t feel his fingers,” his wife said via telephone last week.
Over time, that tingling and numbness would force Ainsworth into the hospital, where he would be diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIPD), a chronic condition that occurs when a person’s immune cells begin attacking, rather than defending, nerve cells.
After receiving treatment last fall, Ainsworth was able to attend committee meetings in Montpelier last November, but began experiencing breathing trouble late last year and was admitted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and a systemic staph infection, said Peggy Ainsworth.
Throughout the process, Representative Ainsworth has tried to stay up to date on House business during his recovery, commenting on bills and communicating with his colleagues, Peggy said.
“He wants you all to know that he is keeping watch on what is going on at the State House and is in contact with people there,” she wrote to followers of David’s campaign Facebook page last month.
Ainsworth briefly considered a retirement from the legislature, his wife said, but he fully intends on returning the House “as soon as possible.”
Back on the Farm
For Peggy Ainsworth, David’s hospitalization and slow recovery has meant that work at Westland Farm, near the Royalton-Sharon town line, has fallen primarily on her shoulders.
“David is really the heartbeat of the farm,” she said acknowledging that she “can’t work the magic that he does.”
Running the farm with only one hired hand to help out has forced her work with the Royalton Selectboard to take “a bit of a back seat,” she said admitted. “I’ve felt discouraged and sad at times,” she said, as she counted the stresses of both operating a 42-cow dairy farm and raising two granddaughters.
“We’re bleeding money like every other farm,” she said, pointing to plummeting milk prices and a recent letter from Cabot AgriMark that informed farmers of suicide prevention resources, a development that grabbed headlines across the region.
“Everybody knows somebody who wants to sell or has already sold,” she said.
Mrs. Ainsworth’s determined efforts to keep farm and family afloat have not gone unnoticed by her neighbors and constituents, she said. In the months since her husband has been hospitalized, she has received a variety of support and donations of food from community members in Tunbridge and Royalton.
“These communities have been great,” she said, recalling her granddaughters’ surprise at the outpouring of support. “We’re counting our blessings.”
While there is no timeline for when David Ainsworth will return to farm work, Peggy says he has transitioned to Berlin Health & Rehab for a period of occupational and physical therapy.
With any luck, this move will precipitate a return to life beyond a medical facility, along with a long-awaited chance to meet his new grandson, Edgar, who was born on February 8.