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Paul Vandergriff

I was in high school when I saw Pride of the Yankees the story of Lou Gehrig. In this 1942 movie Gary Cooper played Lou Gehrig who played in 2130 consecutive games. Gherig, who had ALS, died a year before the films release. In the movie as Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper) says words something like this on the day of his retirement: “Today I consider myself the luckiest man in the world.”

I feel much the same way.

I have a late onset form of Ataxia. I got to complete college, USAF pilot training, including instructor pilot training. I had a very interesting career in petroleum land work following my Air Force Service. I have a beautiful, helpful wife, a fine son and daughter who married a handsome son-in-law, and three very brilliant, beautiful and talented granddaughters. Great replacements already in place!

My wife has been a long serving and willing helper for almost thirty years after my retirement. In addition to household chores, she has driven, carried out trash, overseen yard work, budgeted, decorated, and achieved many things not regularly thought of as being a wife’s responsibility. Plus, she has a hearing problem while I—like many Ataxians—have a speech problem. Not fun for us at all!

My Ataxia was first diagnosed in 1983 after a fall on ice in our yard. The diagnosis by x-ray was first noticed as a black spot on my cerebellum. An older brother had an unknown form of Ataxia. A genetic test confirmed my Ataxia. A kind, helpful supervisor always alerted me before scheduled fire drills so that I could ride down the elevator rather than walk six floors of stairs during the drill. I worked and walked unaided until 1990, and retired then at my neurologist’s insistence.

Neither parent had Ataxia; however, my maternal grandmother had what doctors said was a stroke. From my observation of my maternal grandmother’s wavering hand movements and also hearing her speech, I’m convinced she had Ataxia. She was not lucky— we lived in the country where neither a walker nor a wheelchair were of benefit. Our frame farm house was NOT handicap accessible. It had no electricity. It had no running water. Bedrooms were hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The nearest paved road was over six miles away.

A brother with Ataxia died at age 89. I’m uncertain of the cause. He’d had falls from oil derricks, survived pipeline explosions, WW II, colitis, liver cancer, Ataxia, and other disorders.

I exercise almost daily. However, I am under no illusion that exercise may add length to my life. My brother lived to age 89 without any exercise. Perhaps exercise may postpone some disorders as may some medications and foods. Hopefully, a cure for Ataxia will be found soon.

I’m not the celebrity or hero Lou Gehrig was. I’ve never played for the Yankees. I still think I’m lucky.

-Paul

Author Bio: Paul is a Certified Professional Landman and a former helicopter pilot. He is not a writer. He is still able to bathe, feed, and dress himself. He cannot walk or drive. 

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