Fighting Lou Gehrig's Disease
You can hear the emotion in Mike Krikorian's voice while describing his friend, Pam Callahan, who passed away last February from ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease. Krikorian owns the Copper Canyon restaurant in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. Pam and husband Don were two of Krikorian's first customers when the restaurant began in 1998.
"My first six months open, I would be cooking in the kitchen six nights a week, and often in the bar, and we all would be exchanging small talk," said 45-year-old Krikorian. "One night, we got into a more lengthy conversation and learned their son and mine were in the same school and the same grade."
That connection kick-started a closer friendship. Pam began bringing the Krikorians' son home from school on days when the restaurant became too busy. Krikorian's wife worked on Wall Street in Manhattan. The families became tight.
He said, "I found out Pam had ALS in 2004, about a year after she had been pregnant with her fourth son. She had been complaining about some feeling in her extremities, her feet, arms, and hands. She thought it might be the onset of muscular dystrophy."
But it wasn't. A doctor diagnosed ALS, which the ALS Therapy Development Institute defines as a "fatal neurodegenerative disease affecting approximately 30,000 Americans and 450,000 people worldwide. Currently, there is no cure or effective treatment. On average, most people living with ALS only survive two to five years from diagnosis."
Said Krikorian, "When Pam began using a wheelchair, she initially could talk without any computer assistance. Then she had a breathing tube put in. Finally, she was able to communicate using only her eyes on the computer screen to form a sentence."
Eventually, one of Callahan's friends knew Callahan enjoyed the Copper Canyon, and would take her there for special days in which she was the center of attention. At the end, Pam had a "close-knit group" of perhaps 20 that looked after her, read to her or acted as a comforting presence. She fought so hard to live, said Krikorian, in order to remain a positive influence on all her four boys. Krikorian eventually incorporated Callahan's initials into his restaurant logo.
Not wanting anyone to experience ALS, Krikorian has been raising funds through his restaurant to benefit the ALS Therapy Development Institute, a nonprofit biotech trying to develop effective treatments and a cure.
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Daniel J. Vance is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor from Vernon Center, Minn. His weekly newspaper column Disabilities has been published in more than 260 newspapers.
Daniel J. Vance may be reached at www.danieljvance.com