GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. - A lot of people take life, one day at a time. One couple is just enjoying each minute they share together. It's a journey of faith, hope and love.
Two and a half years ago, Bryan Stone and his wife Debby got the news. “October 25th of '16. We were diagnosed at Vanderbilt,” Bryan recalls, “I was having problems lifting with my right arm.” He was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
With a smile, Bryan said, “Doctor Internet and I had already been working on it and I knew that there was a very good possibility that that’s what I had.”
The final diagnosis took a year and a half. It was a long 18 months for the couple. From everything they’d read, they knew it was ALS. “When the diagnosis, we finally got it, it was a relief to finally know for sure,” Bryan said.
They faced some tough decisions. “Do we just sit down and let it take us or do we continue to live life,” Bryan said. On the way home Bryan recalls their conversation, “We said that today is the best day, the rest of our life and we’re going to make the most of it. And we’ve tried to pack a lot into the last two years.” Debby laughed and said, “Oh, we sure have.”
They hit the road making trips to Alaska, the Panama Canal and other destinations because time is precious. “We did a car trip, Niagara Falls and all the way across New York State, Vermont, New Hampshire, all the way to Kennebunkport, Maine, back down through Massachusetts, Connecticut and all the way back down the east coast,” Debby said.
They’re packing as much into life as they can, knowing down the road, Bryan will need a motorized wheelchair to get around. “I can still walk, not far, but I can still walk. I can still move my arms, but I can’t lift much” Bryan said.
Debby is already helping him do things like buttoning his shirt. “This all falls back on my caregiver. And that’s why I say we were diagnosed,” Bryan said, “It’s because with ALS, the whole family gets that diagnosis.”
Right now, his disease is slow progressing. “But with ALS, you never know,” he said, “I could go into a fast progression tomorrow.” Each day is a gift. Bryan smiled and said, “Yes, very much.” Debby added, “In time, it’s a blessing in time. It’s given us a lot of time to make those memories.”
They work together with others fighting the battle. “We mentor a lot of new ALS pals and their caregivers at the clinic,” Bryan said. The ALS Care Clinic is at Crestwood Medical Center. Bryan serves on the state board of directors and is also Alabama’s ALS Ambassador. He’s made several trips to Washington to meet with members of Congress, raising awareness of the disease. “I just can’t sit back and let it take control of me,” he said, “That’s not the way I want to leave it.”
Last fall, Debby lost two-thirds of her stomach to cancer. She is still recovering but is still cancer free. “It’s an amazing blessing,” she said, “I go to sleep every night thanking God I’m still here.” She still has work to do. Fighting back tears, Debby said, “He has wonderful sons, but I just couldn’t see leaving him and that’s what I prayed for.” Her prayers were answered.
The Stones are surrounded with the word of God. “Behind all of these walls, there's scripture messages,” Debby told us. “On just about every stud,” Bryan added. When they built their home in 2018, relatives and members of their church family wrote messages surrounding the couple with faith, hope and love. And Bryan and Debby feel that every day.
Every year, the ALS Association Alabama chapter holds events to raise awareness and funds to help provide services for people living with the disease. The annual Wine and Dine Masquerade Gala is coming up Friday, April 19 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Burritt on the Mountain. For a link to the ALS website to buy tickets and support the fight, click here.