HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - When someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness, they face the choice of giving up or fighting. But Huntsville’s Rick Isaacs isn’t going down without a battle. He knows how to fight.
Rick was an engineer and program manager at Sikorsky Aircraft for 33 years building helicopters like the Black Hawk and even Marine One, the president's ride. “That was kinda my life and I thought it was my calling,” Rick told us.
His mission now is much bigger. “A day doesn't go by that I`m not doing something for ALS,” he said. “It's what keeps me going. It's my purpose in life. And quite frankly, I enjoy it.”
Rick’s battling Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS. He’s a fighter. Rick grinned and said, “Oh yeah. Oh yeah, you have to be a fighter with this disease.” Diagnosed almost three years ago, Rick says he only had two choices.
“You can face it head on or you can let it consume you,” he said. He wasn’t going to let the latter happen. “You just kinda have to push that crap out of your mind and say hey I'm going to enjoy life and it's different,” he said, “and some of it really stinks but I try to ignore the bad and enjoy the good.”
Every three months, he goes to the ALS Clinic at Crestwood Hospital where he meets with a team that evaluates him. And he does some patient counseling of his own. Rick talks to others who have been diagnosed with the disease.
“If I show them that life is still worth living and even when you have afflictions, you can do things that maybe you didn't do before and maybe you gotta do it in a slightly different way but you can still do things to enjoy life,” he said, “And have a lot of fun at it at the same time.”
Rick says the body is really a vessel and when it fails you, it can be very disheartening. “I'm still in there. It's the same old Rick Isaac. I haven't changed,” he said. “I've got a warped sense of humor. I still like to drink beer. I like people and I think that's what gets me by.”
He raises money all year to support ALS patients who need assistance and to fund research to find a cure. Of the more than $146,000 raised for the 2016 Huntsville Walk to Defeat ALS, more than $26,000 of it came from “Team Rick.”
His team of family and friends is fighting the ALS battle as well. “Quite frankly, at least in my case,” Rick said. “I'm more concerned about what it does to others than what it does to me. You know, family, friends. It hurts them too.”
A black and white photograph of Lou Gehrig hangs in Rick’s home office. “That was special to me,” he told me. It was a gift from an old high school friend he hadn’t seen in 40 years. That friend’s father passed away from ALS.
When he heard Rick was fighting the disease, he sent the photo his friend in Huntsville with a note saying “this is yours now.” It serves as a reminder to Rick that just like Lou Gehrig said at home plate in Yankee stadium on July 4, 1939, he too has “an awful lot to live for.”
“There are little things that people do for you that really make it all worthwhile. It gives you a reason to go on,” Rick said. “You know, I have a purpose in life. It's much different than it was before. But I think it's much grander than it was before.”