One August evening back in 2009, while my wife Debbie was starting to cook dinner, I received a phone call from Greg Sacks, a friend of ours. He explained how he’d forgotten to call us earlier, but he was asking friends and family to meet at a local restaurant for an important announcement he wanted to make. That meeting was scheduled to begin in 30 minutes and caught me off guard. I was curious as to what this was going to be all about, so I remember telling Debbie that I wanted to attend. She acted surprised, but put our dinner on hold and we both jumped in the car and arrived just as Greg was starting to address a small group. I was curious as to why we weren’t given more notice, but put that in the back of my mind. I had no idea how this meeting was going to affect my life, but I was drawn to find out what this was all about.
We stood in the back of this group and I remember thinking as I looked around that I didn’t know very many of the people there, but I knew they were all friends of Greg’s and his wife, Daryl. The mood was somber and serious and I sensed that this wasn’t going to be an evening of fun. Standing at Greg’s side, I saw Mike Ramirez, his wife Maureen and their kids, Mike Jr. and Colleen, both in their late teen years, I guessed. I really didn’t know their kids and really barely knew Mike and Maureen. They stood motionless and just stared out over the group, as Greg thanked us all for coming. Greg is a wonderful and powerful speaker, but he seemed deeply disturbed as he gallantly began to share the subject matter with us all. We were told that Mike had just been diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease; a disease I really knew almost nothing about.
Greg gave us the news and story straight up; right into every ugly detail that would challenge Mike personally, as well as the devastating times that the Ramirez family were about to go through. We listened in disbelief how this little known disease would forever change the lives of Mike, his family and close friends in attendance. Greg prepared us for what was coming, as best he could. He quoted statistics of the average life expectancy, as well as the grim details of the loss of simple motor skills, and then we heard terms such as “wrist drop” and much worse. I stood shocked by what I was listening to, never able to take my eyes off of Mike, Maureen, Mike Jr. or Colleen. Greg’s words seemed to blur in and out at times, as I tried to process what I was hearing.
The descriptions continued to get even more devastating, as we learned that this is a disease that attacks nerve cells and pathways to the brain and spinal cord. We were told that this is a progressive process and as more cells die, it leads to paralysis and organ failure; a description of a slow agonizing death from within. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, yet Greg remained so brave standing at his best friend Mike’s side. He said frankly that the average life expectancy is 2 – 5 years from diagnosis and that in most ALS victims their brains remain clear and fully functioning. We listened and tried to comprehend the slow loss of things we take for granted; the ability to walk, dress, write, speak, swallow and lastly, breathe.
The strongest memory of this evening was, as I listened in horror, that I couldn’t for a moment take my eyes off of Mike and his family. They stood in a glazed, lifeless stare, showing no signs of hope. Their eyes told me what I needed to know. I kept repeating in my own mind, over and over, “I can’t imagine, I just can’t imagine”. It was the haunting look in their empty eyes that night that moved me to pledge to change my life going forward. I had gone to a last minute meeting, not knowing what to expect, yet I was telling myself that I needed to become a better person and citizen of our community. I felt helpless in regard to the Ramirez family situation, yet I knew that I wanted to try and help in some way. I knew so little about ALS, but I knew I wouldn’t let this feeling go.
Finally, we heard some positive news. Greg proudly proclaimed that he and his wife, Daryl, together with the Ramirez family were going to start an ALS foundation. Mike had come to terms with the grim facts, yet he told Greg that he wanted to turn his misfortune into something positive. That positive was to raise funds for ALS medical research, so that others may be free someday of the suffering he was about to undergo. The foundation would be called “Team Godfather Charitable Foundation”, named after Mike’s nickname amongst his group of friends. Mike was fondly known as “The Godfather”. I didn’t know Mike very well, but I knew instantly that I wanted to help. I was inspired by the man standing in front of this gathering and I was inspired by Mike’s best friend, Greg Sacks.
The heading you noticed at the beginning of this segment read, “MY STORY”. Yet, I am here to tell you that this isn’t really my story. It is a story about friendship, best friendship, and human caring. It’s my story to tell about one family being there every day and every ugly moment during the suffering from an unjust and inhumane disease. This is the story of Greg and Daryl Sacks, who were and still are to this day, the best friends of the Ramirez family. The pain, suffering and anguish they endured along side of Mike and Maureen are beyond my ability to put into words. Their lives forever changed the day they were given the news and learned about ALS. Their lives have been consumed by every aspect of ALS. They suffered along side of Mike through every stage, always there, ready willing and able. Since the inception of Team Godfather through today, they are the heart, soul and sprit of our small group of volunteers. Our foundation continues to thrive and grow under their leadership and guidance. Without them, there would be no foundation, no fund raising, and little meaning.
I dedicate this endeavor to Mike’s best friends, Greg & Daryl Sacks.
To learn more about our foundation please go to www.teamgodfather.org.
To donate to our cause, please click Coast 2 Coast 2016.
Thank you very much,