Despite ALS, Salem lady earns college diploma

May 16, 2015 - als

SALEM — When Kathryn McKenna receives her class from Salem State University on Saturday, she’ll toss her top into a atmosphere like a rest of a 1,629 graduates.

A few moments later, she’ll conduct down a travel to Forest River Park with family and friends to reason a some-more personal celebration.

McKenna skeleton to recover 50 balloons to respect her late parents, who met during Salem State. It will also symbol a perfection of a prolonged and formidable tour to achieving her college diploma.

At 59, McKenna not only earned her Sports and Movement Science class scarcely 30 years after initial enrolling during a school. She also achieved a attainment dual months after being diagnosed with amyotrophic parallel sclerosis, or ALS.

“I’m really grateful,” McKenna said. “It’s usually since I’ve had a support of smashing people behind me.”

McKenna finished dual years during Salem State in a late 1970s though never got her degree. Over a years she has worked as a earthy therapy assistant, a moody attendant, and personal partner to Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan, among other jobs.

Two years ago, during a propelling of her trainer during Lahey Behavioral Health Services in Beverly, she motionless to go behind to college.

“It was on my bucket list,” she said. “And we wanted to respect my mom and father.”

Like any adult going behind to college, McKenna had a full plate. She worked during a day, took classes during night, and cared for her mom on weekends.

Last summer, she beheld that she was carrying difficulty swallowing and combining words. On Mar 2, with her sister and 3 brothers during her side, she got a diagnosis from her alloy — Bulbar ALS, an conflict of ALS that destroys a engine neurons that control muscles in a face, conduct and neck.

McKenna pronounced she suspicion quickly of quitting school, though motionless to persevere. Because Bulbar ALS affects swallowing, she struggled to say her weight and her energy. In her debate therapy class, she had to make certain to enunciate her difference clearly in sequence to be understood. As a Sport and Movement Science major, she had to do push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups.

McKenna missed usually one category and will connoisseur with a 3.89 grade-point average.

“At a finish of a day, she can hardly travel and hardly talk,” pronounced her sister, Susan Munroe. “She’s positively amazing. Where does she get this energy?”

McKenna attributes her success to a support of her professors, associate students and family, and to a values instilled by her parents.

When she got a 97.5 class on her initial paper in World Literature, she went to Forest River Park to a basketball justice that is named after her father, Bob McKenna, a long-time superintendence advisor and basketball manager during St. John’s Prep. She hold a paper toward a sky and betrothed him she would be behind when she had her diploma.

When she earnings to a park on Saturday, she’ll recover a balloons for both her father and mother, Elaine, who died on Sunday, Mother’s Day.

McKenna pronounced she will continue to be means to walk. But with Bulbar onset, that affects about 30 percent of a people with ALS, she’ll eventually need a feeding tube and will have to confirm if she wants to be put on a ventilator.

McKenna pronounced she considers herself an advocate, not a victim. She has started an ALS Warm Water Bucket Challenge on Facebook propelling a Food and Drug Administration to approve an ALS remedy called GM604.

“I still have a joyous life a day during a time,” she said. “I still have so most adore with my family. we live each day as a new day, and it is.”

Staff author Paul Leighton can be reached during 978-338-2675 or

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