Newly diagnosed with ALS, Cathy VerHey gets her college diploma and …

May 5, 2015 - als

KALAMAZOO, MI — Buying a right graduation label for Cathy VerHey was a plea for her father and children.

What’s an suitable label for a new college connoisseur recently diagnosed with a crippling, deadly disease?

“Just try anticipating a graduation label for this situation,” pronounced Tony VerHey, Cathy’s father of 26 years.  “The cards are all, like, ‘congratulations on your future’ or ‘the universe is your oyster.’ “

Cathy, a 49-year-old Schoolcraft resident, has been holding college classes off and on for 15 years. In January, she was finally in a home stretch, starting her final dual classes to finish an associate’s grade in accounting during Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

Then usually after a start of a semester, Cathy was diagnosed with amyotrophic parallel sclerosis, also famous as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The prognosis: She expected will live for another dual to 3 years, during that she will gradually remove flesh control, including a ability to walk, talk, pierce and swallow.

RELATED STORY: Cathy VerHey’s ALS challenge: Devastating diagnosis means time is ticking for Schoolcraft woman.

The earthy decrease already is good underneath way: VerHey used a wheelchair to get her diploma Sunday during KVCC’s derivation rite during Western Michigan University’s Miller Auditorium.

Tony, their couple’s 3 children — Sarah, 25; Ashley, 20,  and Anthony, 15 — and a half-dozen other family and friends were in assemblage during a ceremony.

“Everything has a small some-more significance now, a small some-more intensity,” Tony said, as he sat in Miller Auditorium watchful for a rite to begin. 

He paused to accumulate his thoughts.

“Her bravery is unquestionable,” he finally said.

Seated subsequent to him, Ashley posted a print of a perspective from their seats on Facebook.

“Not usually is my momma kickin ALS’s a–, she’s GRADUATING WITH HONORS currently from Kalamazoo Valley Community College!” Ashley wrote. “Proud daughter impulse for sure!!

“Momma we are a biggest impulse and strongest lady we know! Congratulations!! You merit it!! we adore you!!!!”


Cathy graduated from Otsego High School in 1983 and worked for years as a bookkeeper.

She started holding college classes after her children started school, nonetheless she had to put propagandize on reason for awhile given of health issues separate to ALS.

She was usually recuperating from those issues in 2014 when she developed a slight offence in her debate and found her feet would spasmodic go limp. Perplexed, she went to her family doctor, who suspected a teenager stroke. Tests ruled that out and Cathy was sent to a neurologist, who also didn’t find anything.

It took months to endorse what was wrong.

It was a wrenching, harmful diagnosis, nonetheless Cathy has been dynamic to make a many of a time she has left — and that means operative her approach by her bucket list, she said.

And No. 1 on that list was finishing school.

It wasn’t easy. Her deteriorating condition includes change issues, slurred debate and difficulty swallowing during times.

She was forced to quit her work investigate pursuit during a KVCC bookstore and she’s not authorised to expostulate anymore. This semester, she used a hiker to get around a KVCC campus.

She warranted tip grades this semester, nonetheless indispensable some accommodations.

“My accounting instructor focussed over retrograde to assistance me,” Cathy said.

Her economics instructor wasn’t as understanding, so KVCC administrators authorised her to dump a category and arrange a portfolio to acquire those final 3 credits.

“I adore that school,” Cathy pronounced about KVCC. “They’ve been so helpful.”

The economics instructor aside, “most of a instructors unequivocally go over what they need to do,” she said.

She pronounced she’s anxious to finally get her degree, even nonetheless she’s now on incapacity and it seems rarely extraordinary she’ll ever enter a workforce again.

“I skip working, nonetheless not being means to work allows me time with my family,” she said.

Regardless, “I’m beholden I’m finished with school,” she said. “It was important. we always told my children that we should never start something that we don’t finish.”

Although before her diagnosis, she didn’t expect going by derivation in a wheelchair, Cathy pronounced it didn’t matter.

“It’s OK,” she said. “I pronounced early on that we don’t caring if we have to use a shaft or a hiker or a wheelchair. we usually wish to get that diploma.”

‘Just suffer life’

With work no longer an option, Cathy is formulation “The summer of Cathy,” in that she hopes to grasp some of her other dreams.

“This is my summer,” she said. “I usually wish to suffer life.”

It starts with a outrageous celebration this Saturday to applaud her graduation. “It’s going to be big,” Cathy said. “I can’t trust how many people are coming. Even my gynecologist.”

In a few weeks is a family vacation to Mackinac Island, a place Cathy has never been and always wanted to visit, and Cathy and Tony also are anticipating to go to Niagara Falls in Jul or August.

The family’s skeleton for a summer embody their common report of 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 family’s large eventuality will be in August:  Sarah, a first-year connoisseur tyro in Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, will be removing married.

Sarah straightforwardly acknowledges that she changed adult a marriage so her mom could attend as many as possible. Cathy and Sarah recently went selling for a marriage dress, “a surreal experience,” Cathy said.

When Sarah was rescheduling her wedding, Cathy finished a indicate of revelation her: “Don’t do it for me. Do it usually given it’s something that we unequivocally wish to do.”

“I don’t wish my kids to wait to live their lives given of me,” Cathy said. “I wish to watch them live their lives.”

Being grateful

Although Tony says he’s still “numb” from perplexing to routine Cathy’s diagnosis, Cathy is focusing on a positive.

She revels in a fact she can still float a horse, interjection to a crony who gave her a equine that lies down so she can mountain it.

She is anxious her doctors seem gratified with her progress. Although ALS is incorrigible and her decrease is inevitable, it seems to be occurring during a slower rate than initial anticipated.

She’s hugely beholden for a romantic and financial support offering by family and friends. Almost $14,000 has been lifted by a GoFundMe account determined for a family, an critical care given Tony is self-employed and his time has been consumed by medical appointments and assisting Cathy. 

The income has authorised a integrate to compensate forward on their debt and account their summer trips. “The escape of adore and support has been amazing,” Cathy said.

Cathy also is shower in her children’s achievements. Anthony, a beginner during Schoolcraft High School, is starting driver’s training. Sarah has a summer internship to work during an elephant retreat in Thailand, an critical step towards her idea of eventually operative with wildlife animal conservation.

Ashley, a center child, has changed behind and has taken over many of a grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning. She also works at the Great Kalamazoo Auto Auction in Schoolcraft and recently became manager of a circuitously horse-boarding stable — her dream job, Tony said.

Cathy pronounced a diagnosis has brought a close family even closer.

“I usually wish to suffer life as many as possible,” Cathy pronounced about her evident future. “I wish to float with my daughter and my father and my son as many as possible. we wish to go to each equine uncover we can.

“I’m really stubborn,” Cathy said. “I’m not finished yet. we have so many to do.”

On Sunday, she checked one of those things off her list, channel a theatre during Miller to collect her degree.

As she met adult with her family after a ceremony, Cathy started to cry.

“I usually can't trust we did it,” she said.

To present to  the VerHey family

An online fundraiser has been determined for Tony and Cathy VerHey on GoFundMe. Contribute by clicking here.

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

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