Clarence Alexander has known two great loves in his life–Mother Nature and Ruth. While Lou Gehrig’s disease cut short his time with the first, it has only strengthened his relationship with the second and inspired her resolve to find a cure.
A Macomb Township resident, Alexander, 67, was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's, in October 2007. A progressive and fatal disease that causes the muscles to weaken, affecting the ability to move, speak, swallow and breathe, ALS has no known cause or cure.
Having lost the ability to move his limbs, the once avid outdoorsman is now confined to a wheelchair. But for both Alexander and his wife of 47 years, his story is not one to be pitied, but rather used to raise awareness and support for the research of a disease that remains so much a mystery.
“Not enough people know about it,” Ruth said. “It’s not like cancer, where there’s 50 million different fund-raisers or things going on and where people are so well informed. Lou Gehrig’s is not well known and (ALS of Michigan) only gets their money through donations.”
Before he was diagnosed in 2007, Clarence worked in shipping, receiving and storage for the meat industry and could be found spending every spare weekend and vacation either camping, fishing or playing sports.
“We belonged to an independent camping club for probably close to 30 years,” he said. “We camped with them once or twice a month. We used to go to the Bavarian Festival in Frankenmuth and camp near the Renaissance Festival, where we would take the kids every September. Indian River is real beautiful. We used to go all over the state.”
Forced to give up camping shortly after his diagnosis, Clarence said he only regrets now that he is unable to take his 5-year-old grandson camping, “like normal grandparents do.”
But given that the weather cooperates, Clarence is able to attend many of his grandson’s T-ball and flag football games. And while it might be easier for Clarence to be homebound, Ruth has not allowed this to become the case.
“We still go out, we just have to do it a little differently,” she said. “He still goes to weddings and graduation parties and we go to dinner. I take him to bingo and buy him an electronic machine and take him to the racetrack twice a year.”
Clarence doesn’t deny that there are bad days, but as Ruth says, “any day he wakes up and he’s able to move” there is renewed hope that his medication is working and somewhere, scientists might be one step closer to a cure.
Until then, the couple’s mantra will remain “one day at a time.”
To do their own part to support ALS research, the Alexanders plan to join family and friends this month at the 12th annual Walk ‘N Roll for ALS at Stony Creek. This year’s event is Sept. 30, with registration at 10 a.m. and the walk at 11 a.m.
Proceeds from the event will benefit ALS of Michigan, which supports local ALS patients and their families by paying for respite care, ramps, bathroom chairs, wheelchairs and other items and services insurance doesn’t cover.
For more information on the disease, visit MDA’s ALS Division home page at www.als.mda.org or check out the online campaign created during national ALS Awareness Month (May) that features 31 individuals, Clarence included, who are battling this fatal disease.