By Ashley Rader
In the face of a diagnosis that would cause most to stumble, East Side Elementary School Principal Josh Wandell is maintaining a positive outlook and hoping he will continue to be used as a tool for God through the experience.
Wandell, 34, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, on June 4. Since the diagnosis, family, friends and community members have rallied around Wandell and his family to provide support to the family.
“It has been humbling and overwhelming, the way the public has responded to this,” Wandell said. “It is almost hard to accept. It shows what makes Elizabethton special and sets it apart from other places. I didn’t know as many people as this cared. I knew they liked or respected me, but I didn’t realize so many cared enough to sacrifice to help.”
Wandell hopes the public will see beyond his individual case to see ALS as a bigger cause. He said he was not familiar with the disease before the diagnosis, only that Lou Gherig, a player for the New York Yankees, had died from ALS.
“I hadn’t heard of ALS, and that is a shame because it affects more people than you realize,” he said. “I hope this brings attention to a scary disease that not a lot is known about. I hope this helps people see a bigger cause.”
The ALS Association Website, www.alsa.org, says the average life expectancy of a patient with what it defines as a “progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord” is about two to five years from the time of diagnosis.
However, about 20 percent of people with ALS live five years or more, up to 10 percent will survive more than 10 years and five percent will live 20 years.
There are people in whom ALS has stopped progressing, and a small number of people in whom the symptoms of ALS reversed, the site says.
ALS is not contagious.
Wandell’s path toward diagnosis began a year ago, in the summer of 2012. In June 2012, he and East Side Elementary librarian T.J. Brown ran a half-marathon together in North Carolina.