Why We Walk to Defeat ALS in Hershey
By Kacie Donnelly
I grew up knowing that my dad was brave, but I saw his strength at its fullest while ALS was making his body weak.
My dad was diagnosed with ALS in December of 2010, but he was a fighter long before that, having served in Vietnam with the Air Force. He was proud of his service, as we all were. At the time, he knew of the many risks going into the military and fighting overseas. Nobody at the time knew that military service members are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ALS as the general population. In fact, very few people were talking about ALS at all back then.
We still did not know a lot about ALS when he first developed symptoms. We quickly learned a few things though. We learned that there were many services available through The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter. We learned that there was amazing care available at the VA Hospital in Clarksburg, Virginia and also received support from ALS Treatment Center at Hershey Medical Center. We learned that we could make a difference by raising money and awareness in the Hershey Walk to Defeat ALS®. Thankfully the staff at the VA and others were right there to be my dad’s allies in this fight. I encourage you to learn more about the work for veterans and the PVA and VA on the latest ALS podcast.
Most of all, we learned that dad was even tougher than any of us imagined. He changed me as a person because of his fight.
Dad’s battle inspired our family to start a Walk to Defeat ALS team in 2011. His diagnosis was very tough, but it did bring our family closer together. That first walk was the first time in a long while that the entire family came together. That is something that I will remember and carry with me the rest of my life. In a way, it was a gift from my father, a gift that I wish we could have had some other way.
When my dad passed away on April 1, 2013, I had a very difficult time accepting it and processing it. One way that helped was that I created a Facebook page for people that had also went through the same experience or just wanted to know more about ALS. Our group members shot up when the first Ice Bucket Challenge started the next year. It was amazing and brought so much hope. When I can give comfort and understanding to others, that is the greatest reward.
Since then, I finish my posts with the words my dad told me the day that he went to have his feeding tube placed — “Kacie, I’m not dead. I can’t quit. I have to do this.” Or, as I say it, #NDCQ
The first years of the walk proved to be easy for raising money. Naturally, it has been harder to keep up the momentum since dad passed away, but, like him, I am persistent. I know how valuable the services are through the Veterans Administration and at The ALS Association Treatment Center at Hershey Medical Center, because we saw it first-hand. I know how important it is to find a cure, because I saw the devastation of ALS personally. So I will do anything to give hope to people so that they don’t have to know that pain and frustration.
We’ve made baseball hats and wristbands and special t-shirt to promote our team and we will do whatever it takes to fight ALS. #NDCQ — We can’t quit, so I hope you will join us and all of the amazing teams this June at the Hershey Walk to Defeat ALS®. If you see me, say hi. Together, we can do this.
Together, we WILL do this.