Larry Strom says it’s easy to become cynical in life. But that has changed for him since he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“You’re cynical most of your life. I’m no longer cynical,” Strom said.
What changed his outlook is the outpouring of help he has received from total strangers who have helped make his Northbrook house more accessible. They have done everything from removing a backyard swimming pool to installing ramps for his wheelchair to enlarging doorways.
It started a few weeks ago when Strom, who was still then able to walk for short periods of time, ran into his cousin, Julie Savitt, at Home Depot. Savitt owns and operates AMS Earth Movers, Inc. in Lake Bluff.
Savitt ran into Strom over a weekend in March. On Monday she got on the phone with contacts she has in construction, trucking and other businesses to see if she could get him some help.
“The response to help was overwhelming,” Savitt said. “Huge machines arrived at the house to remove the pool and make the yard safe — Bobcats, saw crews, semi trucks — and the work forces were donated to get the job done.”
“I could no longer go out in the backyard. The pool had to go,” Strom said. “It was a one-day operation. I’ve never seen anything like it.,”
Strom initially went to his doctor last year when he began having odd muscle spasms in his arms and legs. There is no test for ALS, but gradually other conditions were eliminated until that was all that was left.
“ALS is one of those diseases you can’t diagnose by testing,” he said. He saw doctors in both Boston and Chicago and underwent batteries of tests before the diagnosis was finally made.
Ironically, Strom said he had been workingout, getting in shape when he became ill. “I was in the best shape of my life,” he said. Though he noted that it’s not unusual for ALS to strike people who have been working out very hard.
It usually also hits people who are past age 50 like Strom, who is 58. Strom said he realized something was wrong when he went on a fishing trip to Canada last July,. “I couldn’t climb in and out of the boat,” he said.
He’s not confined to a wheelchair and has braces on his legs, primarily to keep his left foot from dropping, he said. “I can barely lift my left leg,” Strom said. There is no cure for ALS, but Strom said his doctors are doing what they can to slow the progression of the disease.
In about 10 percent of cases, ALS is caused by a genetic defect. In the remaining cases, the cause is unknown. In ALS, nerve cells waste away or die and can no longer send messages to muscles. This eventually leads to muscle weakening, twitching, and an inability to move the arms, legs, and body. Persons with ALS have a loss of muscle strength and coordination that eventually gets worse and makes it impossible to do routine tasks such as going up steps, getting out of a chair, or swallowing.
He had to stop working as a pharmacist at Dominick’s at the end of last year.
He can use the extra time . Strom said he has also learned to rely on his family for help.
“I have some wonderful sisters,” Strom said. “They have come with me to all of my doctors’ appointments.”
But the most remarkable thing to Strom been the help Savitt was able to find, donations of materials, time, trucks, labor and anything else he needed to make his house accessible for him.
“Julie is my guardian angel,” Strom said.
Strom received help from several companies, all without charge. They included Pappas Construction in Glenview, Leon Trucking in Des Plaines, Savitt’s own company, Prairie Material in Bridgeview, The American Subcontracting Association and G.W. Thiel Inc. in Algonquin.
For Strom, all of that help has made it just a little easier to come to terms with his condition and has given him a different perspective on people in general. “I didn’t know that people were so generous,” Strom said. Strom said it has even brought him closer to his own family. In a letter he wrote to them, he thanked them for all of their help.
“I am overcome with pride and gratitude for this wonderful family,” Strom said in the letter. “You remind me daily that I have a support group that is unmatched.”