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Hagerstown man is at peace with ALS diagnosis

Western Maryland Walk will raise funds for people with ALS

October 26, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • David Muritz of Hagerstown was diagnosed in 2007 with ALS. His wife, Marsha, is his caregiver. David Murtiz is unable to walk or talk, and is on a ventilator. He also has a computer that speaks for him.
Photo by Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer


Reality doesn't get much harder than being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.

A cruel and steady wasting of neuromuscular functions that paralyzes its victims inch by inch, it's often more kindly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease — named for the famous Yankee slugger who received his diagnosis in 1939.

But there is nothing kind about ALS.

There is no meaningful treatment. No cure. No magic pill that will reverse the symptoms.

It's a taker — stealing the body's supply of strength and agility, the use of limbs and the ability to speak and swallow.

Just ask David Muritz of Hagerstown.

Diagnosed with ALS in October of 2007, he slowly has watched the disease take over his life.

Once strong and healthy, he now spends most of his days in bed, attached to a ventilator.

He no longer has the use of his arms and legs and has very little head movement.

But Muritz's story is not about one particular disease.

It's about the individual who, despite the challenges that face him on a daily basis, considers himself blessed.

He is appreciative of the help and support he and his wife, Marsha, receive from relatives, former coworkers and church members.

He is thankful for those who drop by for a visit or stay in touch by email or Facebook.

And he feels lucky to have a computer that speaks for him — tracking his eyes to type out words, which makes living with the disease a little easier.

"I am not depressed," Muritz, 53, said. "The Lord has given me peace and I trust Him to see me through this."

A lifelong resident of Hagerstown, Muritz said he worked for years as an engineering designer at Volvo Powertrain.

And, other than high cholesterol, he was always a healthy and active individual.

Muritz said he and his wife especially enjoyed walking. But it was during one of those neighborhood walks that his first symptom appeared — a drop foot in his right leg.

"We were first sent to Johns Hopkins University Hospital when it was suspected that I had a motor neuron disease," Muritz said. "Once confirmed, we continued to go to Hopkins where they gave us helpful information and monitored my condition."

"We did not know very much about the disease before my diagnosis," he admitted. "After talking with some relatives, I was reminded that my mother had two second cousins that had ALS. I vaguely remember one wearing braces on his legs when I was little. However, I'm told that my type of the disease is not the familial kind."

Following his diagnosis, Muritz said he continued to work at Volvo.

"But the disease affected my legs first, so it soon became difficult to walk. Thankfully, I was still able to walk our daughter down the aisle in December of 2007."

Muritz said the ALS Association loaned him a walker and then a scooter to help him get around.

"I also worked with a bunch of great people and when I had to give up driving, coworkers would give me a ride," he said. "When I didn't have the strength to get out of the car by myself, they would lift me out and set me in my scooter."

Muritz said he had a heart attack in November of 2008, but was able to return to his job.

"I finally decided that I was fast becoming too weak to work. So, with a heavy heart, I left work in June of 2009," he shared. "It was a big adjustment for me because I was always used to being busy."

He and Marsha had hoped to do some traveling, Muritz reflected, "but I guess that wasn't meant to be. The disease began to weaken my core muscles and diaphragm. I was too tired to even eat. In August of 2009, just a little over two months after leaving work, I fell unconscious due to a CO2 build up in my system. I was rushed to the hospital and had to be placed on a ventilator. But I had much to live for. I was an expectant grandfather."

Muritz said his energy level seemed to increase once his breathing was controlled but now his legs were so weak that he was dependent on his power chair to get around.

"Our church, Maranatha Brethren, was very generous and purchased a handicap accessible van and told us to use it as much as we wanted — even to the extent of it sitting in our driveway," he said. "Marsha and I were very grateful that we could still go to church, out with friends or take short day trips."

It wasn't long, however, before Muritz's right arm was affected and he had to learn to eat, shave and use his computer with his left hand.

But with the help of "a few carefully placed pillows, I was able to hold my first grandchild in March 2010 — a boy, Jonah David. I was honored that he was given part of my name," he said.

Shortly afterward, he began having symptoms in his left hand "when it wouldn't do what I wanted it to do," he noted. "Marsha had to take over feeding me, scratching my itch and pretty much everything else. I was still able to move my head, so the ALS Association loaned us a device that tracked my head movements so I could still use my computer."

Even though he was on a ventilator, Muritz said he was able to eat and speak for awhile. But as the disease progressed, his speech became harder to understand and took a great deal of effort.

"It got to the point that Marsha was just about the only one who could understand me. Sometimes, it took a lot of patience on both our parts," he said.

Today, Muritz said he is under the care of local doctors, "who keep an eye on me. After being placed on a ventilator, it became too difficult to continue going to Hopkins. And, unfortunately, there really isn't much of a treatment for ALS.  There is one medicine that may extend life by several months."

He spends most of his days in bed but still enjoys time with family and friends.

"When my grandson visits, he crawls up in bed with me and I'm looking forward to the birth of my second grandson," he said.

Since this interview, his second grandchild, Eli Joseph Croteau, was born on Oct. 22.

According to Muritz, "Marsha and I are very grateful for all the help we've received since the onset of this disease. Our daughter, Erin, and her husband Sam help out in many ways. They run errands and Sam mows the lawn. Erin stays with me so Marsha can get out of the house a little. Marsha's parents, Paul and Sandy, help, too, as well as my brother, Bob, who has pitched in."

Recently, he noted, members of the couple's church have offered to help Marsha do housework and bring an occasional meal "and some of the men are learning how to take care of me so she can get out of the house a little more often."

Muritz said every day, he is thankful for his wife.

"It's so much hard work for her to keep me at home and comfortable. She is such a loving and faithful wife. I could not stay at home if not for her," he shared.

But his wife doesn't look at it as a chore.

"Thirty years ago, I stood before God, family and friends and promised to love Dave for better or worse, in sickness or in health," she said. "That hasn't changed. It may sound kind of sappy, but I love Dave more today than I did then. It's not an easy job taking care of Dave; but I am honored and blessed to have been given the task of tending to this special man."

On Sunday, Nov. 4, family members and friends will participate in the Western Maryland Walk to Defeat ALS, an event designed to raise funds to sustain patient care and support research in search of a cure.

"This will be our second year participating in the walk," said Muritz's daughter, Erin Croteau of Hagerstown.  "We have a mix of family, which includes me, my husband and my brother, Eric, who is coming in from Oregon, plus friends and co-workers. My cousins who attend Hood College also have put together a team to raise money for the ALS Association."

While the team is relatively small, she said, "we also have many people who are supporting us through donations, for which we are grateful."

Muritz said he might never walk or talk again in this life, but because of his strong faith and his belief in an afterlife, "I'll have an eternity to do so. And, who knows?  Miracles can still happen."



If you go ...

What:  Western Maryland Walk to Defeat ALS

When: Sunday, Nov. 4; check-in at 9 a.m.; walk begins at 10 a.m.

Where: Baker Park, Frederick, Md. The walk distance will be 3 miles.

More info: To register or to receive more information about the walk, go to www.ALSinfo.org



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