Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Giving back, feeling blessed

Honouring late husband grew from 'gratitude'

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It was a diagnosis that forever changed the course of Gail Reid's life.

In 2006, her husband David received the grim news that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which causes progressive paralysis of voluntary muscles.

Gail was forced to witness her once-active husband become very ill, rendering him unable to talk and eventually even breathe. He succumbed to the debilitating disease just two-and-a-half years after his diagnosis, at the age of 68.

"David was a very active person. He rode his bike. He exercised. We camped. We did all kinds of things and all of a sudden this happened," said Reid, adding that doctors first suspected her husband had suffered a stroke. "It was like someone kicked me right in the stomach. Your life changes drastically from that day forward."

Following his death, Reid participated in the ALS Society of Manitoba's annual Walk for ALS with family members and friends as a way to honour David. Little did she know that her participation in the event would help her find a community who understood her pain and dedication to those suffering from ALS. She became a volunteer with the organization and three years later is one the agency's go-to volunteers, enthusiastically showing up to help whenever she is asked.

"I volunteer because I feel blessed these people are here trying to help people," said Reid, a 70-year-old Fort Garry grandmother, her eyes welling with tears. "It's gratitude. It's the only way that I can give back and say thank you. I don't hesitate if they need volunteers. I just feel like I have to go and do this. It's what I want to do."

Doing administrative work and helping with events, she said she is happy to contribute in whatever ways she can. She also assists with the agency's annual auction, helping to collect prize donations from local businesses and organizations. Rather than making phone calls, she said she prefers to visit the businesses personally, giving her a chance to connect with the owners and managers and also giving her the opportunity to tell her story. Last year, she paid personal visits to more than 50 local businesses.

"I like the personal contact," said Reid. "If I walk in and they meet me and they talk to me, I think that's better. I think it means a lot."

She said fundraisers like the auction are not only imperative for helping the ALS Society of Manitoba provide services to ALS sufferers, but also for contributing to research being done. She said there are currently over 250 Manitobans living with ALS and more than 3,000 sufferers across Canada.

"What caused a healthy man who loved to camp and bike-ride and walk to all of a sudden for this to happen?" asked Reid. "What causes it? Why is it happening?"

To learn more about the ALS Society of Manitoba, or to become a volunteer, please call 204-831-2568. You can also learn more online by visiting www.alsmb.ca. The organization is currently recruiting volunteers to assist with events as well as board members.

If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Erin Madden at erinmadden@shaw.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2012 B2

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