|Faces of ALS... Our Featured Family - The Vitola's|
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis… ALS … Lou Gehrig’s Disease, different names for the same disease. This illness is so rare, approximately 6,000 people diagnosed each year, that funding for a cure is not where it needs to be. To many, the only person they “know” who has had this life-changing disease is famous N.Y. Yankees 1st baseman, Lou Gehrig, the namesake of this neurodegenerative disease.
If you think about it, there are others that are well-known…Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed at age 21 and is now 72 years old. How about O.J. Brigance, former Baltimore Ravens Linebacker who was diagnosed at age 37 back in 2007 and now works in the Ravens front office instead of on the gridiron?
In this series: Faces of ALS; Our Featured Family, I would like to put a face to this horrid disease to show you the courage, tenacity and love of both those afflicted with ALS and their caregivers. They are truly inspirations and the reason we are so committed to donating a portion of our proceeds to transition your dream vacation into a dream for a cure come true.
Our first family (and we hope there will be more as you write to us to share your story), are wonderful, dear friends of ours with the kindest souls we know. They are Dr. Carl & Eileen Vitola, along with their son, Mario. Here’s their story…
Carl and Eileen met at Gloucester City High School as teenagers. The beautiful Irish girl with blonde hair and big, blue eyes and the handsome Italian boy fell in love. Eileen’s family moved away around the same time Carl went to college, but both returned to Gloucester City and they were reunited. Carl decided to pursue his passion of family medicine and left for Kansas City to commence Medical School, but he couldn’t be away from his Eileen. In January of Carl’s freshman year of Medical School, the two married. That was January 3, 1975!
Eventually, the young couple found themselves back in NJ. Carl opened a practice in Gloucester City, which eventually relocated to Blackwood. They were also blessed with a son, Mario, who has grown into a terrific young man with the finest traits of both his parents. This couple has always been a team. Eileen helped in the office at Carl’s practice; they raised their son; they were pillars of strength to all who needed their help and now this family is helping each other deal with the daily challenges Eileen’s ALS hands them. Carl sold his practice after over 30 years in May, 2013 to tend to Eileen.
I admire Eileen for her strength, her beauty, her compassion and her humor. We still trade messages with a wink and a nod about our boys and our wonderful husbands. She is not worried about herself, but those around her. She still gives me sage advice and lifts my spirits.
Carl has truly shown that he lives his marriage vows. They were not just words at a ceremony. He is loving and dedicated and caring. Oh, he can always pull a bottle of wine out of thin air when you go to visit!
Mario, as I said before, is a terrific young man. He is a few years into a teaching career and is handling ALS with grace.
So, you see, ALS isn’t just touching the famous. It is attacking on a non-discriminatory basis and when it does, it ripples to those around us.
Help us fight back – please donate to The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter