Josh Wandell…greatness interrupted

Published 8:14 am Wednesday, February 19, 2020

There have been outstanding baseball players over time. Those who come to mind most often are Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio. They all subsequently became prominent members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, but only one of them — Lou Gehrig — became forever linked with medicine.
Lou Gehrig was perhaps the best first baseman of all time. Amid American sports heroes, his extraordinary achievements on the playing field, combined with his humility, kind-heartedness, and generosity, put him in a class by himself.
On July 4, 1939, two weeks after having been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Gehrig delivered his farewell speech. Before 62,000 admiring and teary-eyed fans, he stood on the infield of Yankee Stadium, flanked on one side by his 1929 teammates (arguably the best team in baseball history), and on the other side by his current 1939 teammates. His speech concluded with, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. And I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.” He died two years later, just 17 days short of his 38th birthday, of what has been referred to ever since as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Doesn’t that sound a lot like Josh Wandell? Like Gehrig, he was a master of his trade — an outstanding and beloved educator, who was always reaching out to his students, challenging them to learn, to be better students. Like Gehrig, he was a hero to his students, his colleagues, friends, family, and the community at large. Like Gehrig, he was kind-hearted, generous, and humble. And, like Gehrig, his greatness was interrupted by ALS.
A few words about ALS. It is a chronic, progressive, degenerative process that affects more men than women, usually begins between 40 and 70 years of age, involves the cortico-bulbo-spinal and lower motor neurons, and leads to spastic and atrophic phenomena in the cranial and spinal musculature. Its cause and cure remain enigmatic, and its therapy is symptom-driven and supportive.
In the United States, ALS affects approximately 1 in 50,000 people per year. Patients lose control of voluntary movement, speech, swallowing, and respiration. Death is typical within 2 to 3 years after onset. Some patients, however, die after 1 or 2 months, and others might live for 10 or more years with the support of artificial feeding and respiration.
True to his character, Gehrig saw himself “not as a mere victim of a form of paralysis but a symbol of hope for thousands of sufferers of the same disorder.” Today, Gehrig’s hope lives on as the search for a cure continues. Memories of Josh Wandell and the thousands like him live on, as well.
Josh Wandell inspired us. During his seven-year bout with ALS, he remained positive and patient beyond reason. They were perhaps his greatest gifts. He lived each day for a cure, for his faith and family, and for anyone he could possibly inspire.
Wandell was a credit to his profession, his faith, and it was perhaps during his illness and how he lived these last seven years that most inspired others. As his body grew weaker, his faith became stronger. He was the “superman” of faith.
He never complained about his situation. A lot of people quit in life. They just give up when adversity comes. But, not Josh Wandell. He became a fighter and mind-strong for his family and the community, who fought with him.
I think he would say today: Whatever your struggle may be, don’t give up. Have hope.
Josh Wandell was a fighter to the end. He showed us how to live in the midst of our struggles.

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