Every year, 5,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease. Dick Aspinwall is one of them.
Aspinwall spent decades helping keep our military flying safely as a civilian helicopter mechanic at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls.
And recently, the base showed support as he continues to battle this rare and ruthless disease.
He was diagnosed with ALS shortly after retiring in 2020.
“He was falling and having those sorts of symptoms,” says his son, Derek Aspinwall.
ALS is a rare, but cruel disease that robs a person of their ability to move, speak, and eventually breathe.
“It has been an absolute nuke for us as a family because my dad has just been so strong. And as a mechanic, just being able to fix everything that is wrong in the family. And now being stuck in a disease that doesn’t allow him to move or move much,” says Derek.
Dick has had an especially rough go of it lately after going into the hospital in Billings about a month ago for what was supposed to be a routine insertion of a feeding tube.
“The feeding tube had a leak. They had to take that out. So he had emergency surgery to remove the feeding tube, still had blood clots in his lungs, and then developed pneumonia- all with ALS- and beat Covid,” Derek says.
He’s got a lot of people cheering for him, including some of his old friends from Malmstrom. He has remained close with many of the pilots and mechanics that he worked with, and they did a flyover around the hospital to try and lift his spirits.
“He loved it. He was in tears. He could always hear the sound of the helicopter and tell you what it is and what’s coming. That is the level that he is on as far as a mechanic. He can tell when it’s running right. So, he heard it coming when he was in the hospital. It was kind of cool,” says Derek.
ALS, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, is a neurodegenerative disorder that remains very much a mystery. It weakens muscles over time, impacting physical function and ultimately leading to death.
There is no cure for ALS, but one thing Derek says he’s learned from his father is that he will not quit. And despite the odds, they are not giving up hope of a miracle.
“He is just such a fighter that I wouldn’t bet against him, even with the ALS, to be quite honest,” Derek says.
After a month in the hospital, Dick was finally released Wednesday and is doing better.
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