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The Carthage Press
  • Carthage woman adapts to rapid life change with ALS

  • A healthy, active lifestyle has drastically changed over the past 18 months for Diane Sharits, 64.
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  • A healthy, active lifestyle has drastically changed over the past 18 months for Diane Sharits, 64.
    Symptoms of fatigue and losing her voice were the only warning signs of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Last December, Diane was visiting her mother, Betty Parrack, in the hospital and had to walk with a cane due to “drop foot,” which occurs with the breakdown of motor neurons from the brain.
    “My mother said 'what's wrong with you?' and I told her – and she looked at me and said, 'you always had to be different,'” Diane recalled that conversation vividly. “In my family we had diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer – all those bad words. I'm the first one in the family to have this.”
    With her husband, Mike (of 25 years) by her side, Diane buried her mother five days before Christmas. A couple months later, her ALS symptoms worsened and she spent the entire month of March in a hospital in Springfield.
    “You don't diagnose ALS, you eliminate all the other things it could be,” Diane said of the multitude of testing she endured.
    Before the ALS diagnosis in April, Diane battled Ulcertive Colitis, blood clots, MRSA, steroid-induced diabetes, a viral infection and a sinus infection. But since that time, she's bounced back. Today, she is able to walk around her Carthage home, and gets out and about with a wheelchair. She explained the simple task of laundry.
    “I'll put my toes under the washing machine and use them to pull myself up to stand and I can work from there,” Diane said. “Of course it takes me a lot longer … It's difficult to not be able to move like I used to … You have to adapt.”
    And they are adapting.
    Diane travels to Kansas City quarterly for testing, occupational and speech therapy. Their home needed some modifications; a ramp, a deck, extended sidewalk, a modified bathroom and widening of doorways. Mike retired from a career in carpentry (He spent the last 14 years as the Carthage High School carpentry teacher.) and thus his experience transforms these chores into welcomed projects. Mike mentioned his good friend, Brent Erwin, helped him with the concrete as Diane maneuvered her new electric chair outside their home for the first time on Wednesday.
    The Sharits have found themselves humbled by the amount of support from Carthage friends and neighbors to strangers from, literally, around the world.
    “You're on a prayer list in Sweden,” Mike told Diane, to which she responded in grateful tears.
    “I've had a lot of personalized ice bucket challenges,” she said, “I cry when I see them. I think it's amazing. Not all of the funds will be designated to research. There is a local office in Springfield – they cover quite a bit of territory – and it trickles down to help ALS patients with emergency equipment, support groups and candlelight vigils.”
    Page 2 of 2 - The Sharits wished to share that patients immediately receive Medicare and disability when diagnosed with ALS, and it has been a great help.
    Other help comes from the camaraderie and support from events like the Walk to Defeat ALS (1 p.m. Sept. 13 in Leonard Park, Joplin) and also Sept. 27 in Springfield, Mo. The Sharits plan to be at each; with Team Street Lady in Joplin, and Team Ellecor Design & Gifts in Springfield.
    Team Street Lady is named after Diane's seven years with the Carthage Main Street Program, a (now disbanded) downtown revitalization group that helped local businesses.
    “They would call me 'the street lady' and I thought that was funny so I adopted it,” Diane said, still smiling.
    It was with that group that Diane got to travel the nation and enjoy areas such as Boston, Washington and Oregon. She said, though, her favorite place was their family vacation spot in South Padre.
    About every year when the Sharits' four children still lived at home, the family would travel to South Padre. The current joys of grandparenthood are adding onto those cherished memories from years ago.
    Their children are: Ryan Long, of Kansas City; Brady (Haden) Long of Springfield; Taylor Sharits of Springfield; and Devon Sharits, of Toronto, Canada. Brady and Haden have Elliot, 1, and another due in January. Taylor has Edyn, 2.
    Through this whole ordeal, the Sharits have maintained humor and love in their hearts.
    “They have this high-tech piece of equipment in Kansas City to test the nerves in your legs … a safety pin,” Diane said.
    “I thought she was going to bop Dr. Cooper that one time he poked her leg,” Mike said with a laugh.
    Learning how to maneuver a new electric chair can be difficult, but the grandkids love it. The Sharits still laugh and smile while thinking of one young member of the family bouncing on Diane's lap.
    Diane is known as “ammy,” since “g's” are still difficult to pronounce for the young ones.
    “I won't get to see my grandbabies grow up,” Diane said with her box of tissues in her lap. “We have accepted it, but I worry for my children – they're denying – Brady said 'not my mom.' It's been really hard for my brother too (Jay Parrack, of Lamar) because we just lost our mom ... I still have days of ups and downs but you have to make the best of it. Another symptom is the emotional roller-coaster … I don't want anybody to have ALS ever.”

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