ALS studious Cathy VerHey is creation this ‘The summer of Cathy’

July 5, 2015 - als

Editor’s note: This is a third in a array of stories following Cathy VerHey, a Schoolcraft mom and mom with ALS.

SCHOOLCRAFT, MI — On a flawless summer afternoon, Cathy VerHey sits in a screened porch of her farming Schoolcraft home, savoring a pleasures of bland life.

The pointy smell of just-cut grass. The sound of trees rustling in a breeze. The bucolic perspective of a sprawling backyard. The association of her husband, Tony, and their son, Anthony, 16.

Tony tells a caller a story of how he recently acquired a puppy for a couple’s 20-year-old daughter, Ashley — that prompts Anthony to move out a puppy and a family’s dual other dogs. Excited, a dogs scurry joyously around a porch.

Ashley arrives home with a friend. Another family crony drops by. The porch fills with jokes and laughter.

Eventually, Ashley and her crony have to go, and a group conduct out to a barn.

After they leave, a dog nudges a shade doorway to go out.

Laboriously, Cathy struggles to her feet. With some-more a substitute than a walk, she manages a few stairs to pull a doorway open. She winces that such a tiny charge takes so many effort.

“I used to be so eccentric and this illness has unequivocally taken it away,” she says. 

Even with a support of family and friends, doctors tell Cathy this is a conflict she will not win.

Cathy, who turns 50 in September, was diagnosed in Jan with amyotrophic parallel sclerosis, also famous as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

She has been told she will expected live for another dual to 3 years, during that she will gradually remove control of her legs, arms, hands, even her voice and swallowing.

Determined to make a many of her time left, she has dubbed this “The Summer of Cathy.”

She is creation a bucket list and she’s marching by a items, starting with her graduation with honors from Kalamazoo Valley Community College. After holding classes on and off for 15 years, Cathy warranted an associate’s grade in accounting in May, fulfilling a longtime dream.

Her derivation was followed by a graduation celebration that drew some-more than 200 people.

Since then, a family has trekked to Mackinac Island, a place Cathy had always wanted to see, and this holiday weekend, they were headed to a family cabin nearby Interlochen. “I adore it adult there,” Cathy said.

Other summer skeleton embody concerts by Doobie Brothers and James Taylor, and several equine shows. Ashley rides competitively, and it’s a core of a family’s amicable life. On Jul 26, the  Kal Val Saddle Club is formulation a fundraiser for a VerHey family.

The large eventuality is in August: Cathy and Tony’s oldest daughter, Sarah, 25, is removing married. 

“I wish to do as many as we can this summer and fall,” Cathy said. “I don’t know what winter and subsequent summer will be like.”

But even nonetheless this might good be Cathy’s final “good” summer physically, “good” is a relations term.

She can still walk, but needs a hiker and recently acquired a wheelchair. She still has use of her hands, though even opening a Ziplock bag is hard. She still has her voice, though talks really slowly.

Her swallowing, she says, is “fine.” But she strains when she takes a large sup of water. She’s given adult on gummy dishes like peanut butter that get hold in her throat as good as dishes like beef that need a lot of chewing. Even spaghetti noodles need to be cut up.

Despite her remarkable earthy deterioration, Cathy’s mood remains upbeat.

“I’m not giving up,” she said. “I’ve been confident all my life. .. Life is flattering good, and we need to conclude what we have. Find reasons to be happy.”

“We know a elephant is in a room,” Tony said. “But that doesn’t meant we have to dance with it.”

The party

Perhaps a prominence of Cathy’s summer so distant has been a May 9 party.

It was clearly a joyous day for her. The good continue held, and a VerHeys’ backyard filled with friends and family. One of Cathy’s sisters, Jacquie Schiable, came all a approach from North Dakota. The other sister, Chris Scott, gathering from North Carolina.

“It’s awesome,” Cathy said, contemplating a crowd.

The central purpose of a celebration was to applaud Cathy’s graduation, and there  were a common accoutrements of  a graduation celebration: A “Congratulations!” banner; a print arrangement display Cathy over a years: a prolonged list brimful with food; a box for cards.

At one point, Cathy had her design taken wearing a cincture that review “Grad Princess.” In a photo, she is beaming.

Unofficially, a celebration served another purpose for many of Cathy’s friends and extended family. It was their initial possibility to see Cathy given she was diagnosed with ALS.

They came to see how she was doing, and a law was, usually articulate to Cathy — her debate slurred and crude — was unsettling justification of her illness.

But as Cathy sat during a cruise list in between sisters, there was tiny need for talking. Chris pulled Cathy into a long, intense hug. Cathy incited to Jacquie and they overwhelmed their foreheads together and gave any other a kiss.

The sisters’ grief was palpable.

But while they were sad, Cathy was not.

“I don’t wish a empathize party,” she said. “I wish everybody smiling and happy.”

As dusk fell, Anthony and a crony achieved nation songs from a makeshift stage — “Love Your Love a Most,” “Wagon Wheel,” “Dust in a Bottle” and “Ol’ Red” — with Anthony’s honeyed effort voice slow in a air.

“I like conference him sing,” Cathy said.

Anthony has hereditary Cathy’s ideal representation as good as her quiet, artless manner. But Cathy says singing has helped her overcome her shyness, and hopes it will assistance Anthony, too.

With a smile, Cathy recalls how years ago she got a station acclaim during a Miss Otsego manifestation with her opening of  the 1973 nation strike “The Teddy Bear Song.”  She didn’t win a pageant, she says, though she was a usually competitor to move assembly members to their feet.

The memory is nonetheless another sign of what she has mislaid to ALS.

She can’t sing anymore.

Doctor’s visit

These days, one of a many critical people in Cathy’s life is Dr. Dustin Nowacek,  a Kalamazoo neurologist who diagnosed her with ALS 6 months ago.

“If we wish something done, Dustin will do anything to make it happen,” Cathy said.

Nowacek, a 33-year-old with hipster eyeglasses and a warm, enchanting personality, came to Kalamazoo in 2013 after finishing his residency in neurology during University of Michigan. A year ago, he started an ALS hospital during Bronson Methodist Hospital  modeled after a one during U-M.

Every 3 months, Cathy spends an afternoon during a clinic. In further to an examination by Nowacek, a set-up gives her a possibility to speak with a operation of health-care providers, including physical, occupational, respiratory and debate therapists, and a amicable worker, a dietician and a deputy from a ALS Association who can assistance Cathy obtain medical equipment.

While ALS is not curable, Nowacek says a indicate of a hospital is to “prolong life and make certain we residence peculiarity of life. Outside of creation certain we’ve got a diagnosis right, enhancing peculiarity of life is a many critical thing we can do for ALS patients.”

On her many new hospital revisit in June, Cathy was accompanied by Tony and her mother.

“I see you’re vocalization a tiny slower,” Nowacek said, as he checked Cathy over. “Your change is a tiny worse.”

In fact, there was decrease opposite a board. The occupational therapist found Cathy’s hold was a bit weaker. The respiratory therapist found her lung ability was a tiny diminished. The earthy therapist was disturbed about her increasingly unsafe balance. Cathy’s ardour levels are ebbing, and she’s sleeping 10 to 12 hours a night.

Most significantly, roughly each veteran who saw Cathy that afternoon voiced courtesy she was descending some-more often.

“My toes don’t listen” and she was tripping over her feet, Cathy pronounced ruefully.

The earthy therapist forked out Cathy was wearing usually one feet brace; a therapist endorsed braces for both legs. Cathy also got a pep speak on regulating her hiker some-more consistently.

“If we tumble and mangle a bone, that’s devastating,” Nowacek warned.

Another subject of discussion: Whether Cathy was removing service from medical marijuana.

“How’s that going?” Nowacek asked.

Cathy pronounced she was perplexing opposite kinds of pot to see that worked best. Nowacek explained there’s no investigate display pot helps ALS, though he was peaceful to allot it to patients to assistance with anxiety. Cathy pronounced it has been assisting in that regard, and it also increased her appetite.

“I’m not for a marijuana, though she’s gaining weight, so take a marijuana,” Cathy’s mother, Cathrine Cray, pronounced to Nowacek.

Cray told a alloy she’s some-more disturbed that her daughter, a decades-long smoker, had nonetheless to give adult her cigarette habit.

Nowacek concurred a concern, though remarkable lung cancer was a slightest of Cathy’s worries now.

“Stopping smoking is so difficult. we don’t wish we to go by nicotine withdrawal,” Nowacek pronounced to Cathy. “The advantages you’d get from quitting aren’t value it during this point. It’s a peculiarity of life issue.”

With his ALS patients, Nowacek said, “my order is, do whatever creates we feel better.”

Ups and downs

Cathy was happy with a formula of a hospital visit. While her symptoms were worsening, “I’m surpassing really slowly,” she said.

But while Cathy wills herself to focus on a positive, it’s harder for Tony.

Since his wife’s diagnosis, there have been happy times, he said. But there are also days when he’s so vexed he can’t get out of bed.

A male who finds it tough to enclose his emotions, Tony vibrates with mad energy.  When he’s happy, it pours out of him like a tidal wave. When he’s upset, a capillary in his neck throbs.

That capillary was stroke final week as he fielded a call from Wells Fargo about their threats to foreclose on a VerHeys’ home. As it incited out, a integrate had usually refinanced their debt to widen it to 40 years to reduce a payment, and Tony already had sent a check for a behind volume due.

“They found (the check) in a mailroom,” he said, jolt with annoy after a phone call. “It’s like another straw on a camel’s back, that we don’t need right now.”

Finances sojourn a concern. Tony is a self-employed heating and cooling repairman whose income fluctuates. A year ago, a devise was for Cathy to finish her associate’s grade and resume her bookkeeping career during a aloft wage. With a ALS, that’s not probable anymore. Cathy does validate for Social Security incapacity benefits, though a check is small.

“It bothers me we can’t work anymore and we can’t move home a paycheck,” Cathy said. “I was ostensible to get a good pursuit so we wouldn’t have to worry about income anymore.”

At times, a several stresses get to Cathy, too.

“I had a severe week” in late June, she said. “I had a bad mindset. … Everything seemed to boil adult and we usually couldn’t take it anymore.

“I was meditative what’s going to occur down a line, and that was my downfall,” she said. “I can’t go there.”

She’s dynamic to live in a moment, though it’s tough not to get undone by a tasks she can’t do anymore.

She can still dress herself, though even brushing her hair and teeth have turn some-more difficult. She’s switched to immersion during night since “it is usually takes so many energy, it wipes me out.” Even buttoning jeans is a challenge.

Instead of spending her days cleaning a house, creation meals, doing laundry, chauffeuring Anthony or offered with Ashley, she sleeps until early afternoon and spends many of her time sitting sensitively on a porch.

“It’s good to come out here and sit,” Cathy said. “I can feel a breeze, hear a birds.”

While she feels guilty about withdrawal many of a domicile chores to Tony and a kids, a priority now, she says, is “conserving my ardour for things we wish to do.”

One of those things is horseback riding. “After spending time with my kids, a best place for me is to be on tip of a horse,” she said.

A crony gave her an unusually peaceful equine this spring, and a integrate times a week Cathy gets somebody to expostulate her to a stables so she can take a brief ride.

“That equine is so awesome,” Cathy said.

Part of her singular ardour also is going toward formulation a ALS advantage equine uncover designed for noon Sunday, Jul 26, during a Kal Val Saddle Club in Scotts. Half a deduction will go to a ALS Foundation and half to a VerHey family.

Tony and Cathy are moved by a advantage and other fundraisers — Ashley is offered T-shirts and a crony is offered bracelets for a cause. Tony’s hermit has set adult a GoFundMe account to appeal online donations for a family.

“I always knew how many we desired my wife, though we never knew how many other people saw her a same way,” Tony said. “She is loved.”

Cathy says it’s not about her, though anticipating a heal for ALS. In that regard, she’s meditative not usually of herself, though of her children and sisters.

Nowacek suspects her form of ALS is genetic, nonetheless a VerHeys have nonetheless to convince their insurance conduit to compensate for contrast to endorse that. Nowacek has suggested enrolling Cathy in a investigate plan that would collect adult a genetic contrast costs, that is excellent by her.

“They can do any investigate they wish on me,” Cathy said. “I wish to assistance a one that assistance finds a cure. … we usually wish to make certain my kids’ lives are good.”

As Cathy talked, Anthony returned to a porch and flopped into Cathy’s new wheelchair, sitting in a corner. He rolled a chair adult and down a porch, and afterwards slanted on a chair’s behind wheels.

“This chair is incredible,” he said. “I don’t know because people don’t wish to use it.”

Cathy frowned.

“You don’t comprehend what walking is until we can’t do it anymore,” she told her son.  “People take it for granted.

“I would adore to reap a grass again,” she said. “I would adore to griddle again, though some things aren’t value perplexing anymore.”

Anthony pronounced nothing, though he wheeled a chair closer to Cathy. For a moment, they  sat quietly, listening to a trees rustling in a breeze.

“I adore you, honey,” Cathy said, branch to her son.

The 16-year-old held her glance. “I adore you, too, mama.”

Julie Mack is a reporter for Kalamazoo Gazette. Email her at, call her during 269-350-0277 or follow her on Twitter @kzjuliemack.

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