Raising awareness

Lincoln resident Michael Gaither, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and his caregiver, Roger Searcy, will participate in an upcoming Walk to Defeat ALS Oct. 11 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium to help raise awareness and funds for research. With the help of Searcy, Gaither will complete the event using his wheelchair.

For nearly two-and-a-half years, Lincoln resident Michael Gaither has waged a war with his own body as he continues his fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Despite the toll the disease is taking on him, Gaither set a goal to participate in the upcoming Walk to Defeat ALS Oct. 11 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.

Though he cannot walk, he will complete the event with the use of his wheelchair and the aid of his caregiver, Roger Searcy.

“The reason I want to take part in the event is because it is the ALS Association’s main fundraiser,” Gaither said. “I want to do anything I can do to help raise funds for research.”

In March 2012, Gaither learned he had ALS, a neurodegenerative disorder affecting nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

“It’s been rough,” Gaither said. “It’s a totally different life. I went from being active and working to not being active.”

Not only has the disease halted Gaither’s ability to work since April 2012, the gradual loss of motor functions has impacted his ability to enjoy some of his favorite hobbies.

“We had to sell the camper we had down by the lake,” Gaither said. “We also have a boat, but I don’t even have the core strength to go out on the boat. My core strength is bad. I miss boating in general. I loved the lake. We didn’t miss a weekend for two straight years.”

According to Gaither, technological advances exist that can help improve his quality of life as he keeps fighting the disease.

“I have a speech therapist who is supposed to get me a device called a palatal lift which will help with my speech,” Gaither said. “I’m also working on getting approved for a device called a diaphragm pacing system. It’s a machine that will help with my breathing.”

Gaither and Searcy attend an ALS support group meeting the first Tuesday of every month.

“It’s good to be able to go out and meet people who have the disease because it affects so many people differently.”

No longer capable of using his hands, Gaither relies on Searcy to assist him with many day-to-day tasks, from helping him get in and out of bed to ensuring he receives food and drink.

“I don’t know what I would do without him,” Gaither said. “He’s a hell of a man.”

Searcy discussed how Gaither’s outlook toward the disease helps him face the challenges that come with providing care.

“He’s real positive about everything,” Searcy said. “It’s easier to take care of somebody who is positive. If he was down, depressed and all that all the time, it would really be hard to take care of someone like that.”

Gaither said he hopes his symbolic effort to tackle the walk in his wheelchair sheds light on the cause.

“So many people don’t understand this disease, so this event helps us raise awareness for the cause. The most important thing is raising awareness, so we can get more attention. The more attention it gets, the more government funds we can get for research.”

Further emphasizing his positive outlook, Gaither named his team “Michael’s Believers” because he remains hopeful extensive ALS research will yield results.

“If I didn’t believe it, I couldn’t keep going,” Gaither said. “Even if it isn’t in my lifetime, I believe there will be a cure. I hope it’s in my lifetime, though, because I’m not going to give up.”

Contact Shane Dunaway at sdunaway@dailyhome.com