Dennis Diffenderfer was diagnosed with ALS a year ago in October. Since then, he has experienced the gradual weakening of the body caused by the disease, which is frequently referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Dennis Diffenderfer looked around a packed house at the Junction Lounge on Perry on Saturday night, and was overwhelmed.
More than 300 people attended a fundraiser and auction to support Diffenderfer and his wife, Jo Ann, as he battles the disease, ALS.
“There are so many people. I am humbled,” Diffenderfer said, who worked for 20-plus years as a tool-and-die maker, before spending the last few years as a driver for Yancey Auto Parts.
So many people attended that all the tables and chair alone the side of the room were taken, and it was standing-room only.
Diffenderfer has lived all his 56 years within a five-block area of Perry. He and his wife have been active community volunteers, working with the Mark Twain Lake Chamber of Commerce and helping organize the first Mark Twain Rodeo. As people arrived at the fundraising, there were in a line to give him a pat on the shoulder well-wishes.
“We did expect a good turnout,” said Jo Anne, “We had friends and family who told us they would be here. We do feel humbled that so many people care so much that they are willing to help.”
Dennis was diagnosed with ALS a year ago in October. Since then, he has experienced the gradual weakening of the body caused by the disease, which is frequently referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord with no cure yet. The disease robs muscles of nourishment, and when a muscle has no nourishment, it “atrophies” or wastes away. Lateral identifies the areas in a person’s spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates, it leads to scarring or hardening in the region.
With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, people lose the ability to speak, eat, move and even breathe. The motor nerves that are affected when you have ALS are the motor neurons that provide voluntary movements and muscle control. Examples of voluntary movements are making the effort to reach for a smart phone or step off a curb. These actions are controlled by the muscles in the arms and legs.
Although there has been much research on ALS, there is still much that is not known.
“This no staging for the disease like with cancer,” Jo Ann said. “So, it is impossible to day how fast ALS will progress. Let’s just say that it is faster than we want it to be.” As the disease has progressed, Jo Ann now must cut his food for him as his arms have weakened.
As word spread of the battle Dennis is having with ALS, many in the community have offered to help the Diffenderfers, including Saturday night’s fundraiser.
Amber Wankel- Kesler, who has now organized five fund-raisers for those who need help, put together the event. She is a parishioner at St. William Catholic Church in Perry and has known Dennis and Jo Ann for years. The Perry community has poured out its support, Wankel-Kesler said. She convinced people to donate dozens of items for auction, while Jason and Tori Yancey of Perry, who recently debuted their first CD, performed for free.
“They are facing a lot of medical and other expenses,” she said. “Everything here tonight has been donated.
Indeed, the expenses are mounting as the couple must pay the amount that insurance does not cover for treatment, and they are facing the need to purchase a wheel-chair assessible van soon as the disease will eventually leave Dennis unable to walk.
Jo Ann, who works as a public relations coordinator for Mexico Schools, also needs help from the community to spend time with Dennis and take him to doctor’s appointments as she needs to work.
“I work so far away from him,” she said.
One of the auction actions on Saturday helped her realize just how much support there is for Dennis in the community.
“Several of our church ladies donated baked goods to be auctioned off,” she said. “One of the auction helpers was on holding up a cherry pie that fell out of the pan onto the floor. One of Dennis’ and Dennis’ cousins jumped up and said, “I’ll give $10 for that pie.’ So bidding began and the it ended up bringing $155.”