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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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University student sets out to help her cousin


Instead of eating foods she enjoys like McDonald’s burgers or rice and beans, this week’s menu will be different for Janelle Oliger, senior.

Starting today when she wakes up, Oliger will be consuming a diet consisting only of liquids like yogurt, smoothies, smashed foods, Ensure and water.

“I like to eat and I’m not ashamed of it,” Oliger said. “It’s going to be rough but it’s going to be an experience.”

Oliger is eating this diet to raise money for her four-year-old cousin Jonah Larbes, who was born with a rare chromosome disorder.

Diagnosed with failure to thrive and feeding difficulty, Jonah lacks the lateral movement of his tongue – needed to move food around in his mouth and to chew – thus making him unable to eat solid foods.

“It’s pretty rare, I haven’t met anyone else with it,” Oliger said.

Oliger has named the fund-raiser “Living like Jonah,” for her cousin who has been living off of baby food, yogurt and Pediasure for the past two years.

Jonah’s parents, Krista and Randy, have tried to feed Jonah solid foods but he couldn’t eat them.

“We kept thinking it was going to get better but it never has,” said Krista Larbes, Jonah’s mother. “He’s scared of food now.”

After doing much research, his family found a treatment program for Jonah six months ago, but it will cost $30,000 and is not covered by insurance, Oliger said.

The cost of treatment does not include travel and lodging expenses.

“It’s extremely important that he gets this treatment,” Larbes said. “I’m just worried that if we don’t get it now that it [eating solid foods] is something he won’t be able to do.”

The treatment Jonah needs is available in Richmond, Virginia. There Jonah would be enrolled in an eight week therapy program.

“They will help teach him to use his tongue – things we take for granted every day,” Larbes said.

The treatment will consist of slowly introducing Jonah to solid foods and different textures and by training him to use his tongue to eat, Oliger said.

In return the new foods should increase Jonah’s nourishment and weight.

“The biggest push is to get him to gain weight,” she said.

Oliger said she is close to her cousin and enjoys playing with him, wishing he only had the strength like other kids his age.

“He likes to run outside and play but he doesn’t have the energy,” she said.

Finding out the treatment was available but that it was so expensive has been difficult on the family, Oliger said.

“You’re really excited there’s a treatment but it’s just been a roller coaster of emotions,” she said.

Oliger’s sorority sisters from Sigma Lambda Gamma will be helping her out during the week with monitoring her health by looking for signs of exhaustion and malnourishment. They will be wearing tags during the week so people will know they are part of the fund-raiser and can donate or ask questions.

“I’m supporting her and getting the word out for people to donate,” said Jeannine Ware, senior and Sigma Lambda Gamma sister. “I think it’s a great thing she’s doing and it shows there are people out there who care for other people and other causes.”

Oliger’s fund-raiser will be appreciated, Larbes said.

“I think it’s amazing for someone to that age to take so much interest in a little child’s life,” she said. “I’m almost speechless, I’m just amazed that she would think to do this. This is a chance for my son to live a more normal life.”

The sorority sisters are supportive of her cause, Ware said.

“I thought it was a great idea,” she said. “I was really proud of her for stepping up and doing this for her cousin.”

Oliger has sent out notices to her sorority’s other chapters nationwide, with positive responses so far.

“It’s overwhelming to know people care that much,” Oliger said.

She has also received support from other sororities and fraternities on campus.

“It’s a good start, to know the campus really cares,” Oliger said.

The idea for the fund-raiser came to Oliger shortly after she found out how much the treatment would cost.

“I was laying in bed one night and thought, ‘what better way to help him?'” Oliger said.

Oliger will continue this diet until 4 p.m. Friday, with the goal for the fund-raiser being $5,000.

“But hopefully we’ll get more than that,” Oliger said. “Couch change is definitely accepted, even if it’s covered in lint.”

Oliger sees her unique diet for the week as a good way to raise awareness about her cousin’s cause.

“Everyone thinks I’m nuts but if it’s going to get some attention, heck yeah I’m gonna do it,” she said.

Editor’s Note: If you would like to donate to “Living Like Jonah” please contact Janelle Oliger at [email protected], call (419) 372-2158 or stop by the Sigma Lambda Gamma house at 703 East Street. Donations of cash, checks and money orders are encouraged.

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