HAWARDEN—At 67 years old, Hawarden native Kathy Huitink who raised her family in Ireton still learns new things.
Much of that learning has come through being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, in September of 2016.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Or, as Huitink puts it, ALS is “a debilitating disease that treats every person differently, but ultimately takes your life.”
The most important thing for Huitink to do, however, has been to “remain positive” through the entire journey. Her husband, Terry, who was her high school sweetheart, died in 2014. Huitink said that was more earth shattering than her ALS diagnosis two years later.
“I was in shock when Terry died; we had been together since we were sixteen,” Huitink said. “I am fighting this for my kids and the worst part is I don’t want to put them through the loss again, then they will have no parents and that breaks my heart.”
Huitink taught 17 years at West Sioux Elementary in Ireton. Before that, she had an in-home preschool where she taught 10 kids in the morning and 10 more in the afternoon for 16 years while her own children grew up. Kathy and Terry are parents to four sons: Mike, Jon, Dan and Zach.
Huitink’s greatest joy has been seeing her sons become exactly who she wanted them to be. She is proud they have all found the “perfect woman for them” and that they all seem to have found their true loves, just like she found in their dad.
“My blessing is all my boys have wonderful wives,” Huitink said. “Faith. Family. Friends. That is the biggest thing, my family is precious. My faith is my life and my friends have helped me get through.”
Huitink was brought to tears talking about how her sorority sisters are planning to walk for her at Siouxland Walk to Defeat ALS in Sioux City on Sunday, Sept. 15.
“These ladies are wonderful, when they said they wanted to walk for me, I just couldn’t believe it,” Huitink said. “It is very heartwarming.”
Team Kathy has been formed by Xi Theta Tau, sorority sisters of Huitink that formed in 1980.
“We are raising funds in honor of Kathy to help researchers find a cure for ALS, as well as help people living with ALS in our Iowa communities,” said Renae Brown, fellow sister. “Sorority sisters of Kathy will be walking in her honor.”
Donations are being accepted in honor of this 1970 West Sioux graduate and can be dropped off at Iowa State Bank in Ireton or The Willow Tree in Hawarden. Donations can also be given to any of the individual sorority sisters; Kathy Huitink, Missy Eilts, Connie Koopmans, Edie Dekkers, Kay Mulder, Gail Vander Hamm, Cheryl Ten Napel, Ruth Westergard and Renae Brown.
T-shirts are also being made in support of Kathy and the team walking in her honor, contact Carol at Big Sioux Embroidery to order.
Brown visited with Cassidy Welch who is the development coordinator for the Iowa chapter and she assured Brown out of the funds raised 86 percent will stay in Iowa to provide resources and services to ALS families free of charge. The other 14 percent go to national research to help unlock the mystery of ALS and find the key to treatments and a cure. All donations are tax-deductible.
The life expectancy of someone battling ALS averages two to five years from the time of their diagnosis. Huitink is grateful her form is not hereditary.
“That is the only blessing with this disease I have, it is not hereditary,” Huitink said. “That would be unbearable. At least if I have it, and I am battling it, someone else doesn’t have to.”
WHAT IS ALS?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed. Overall, the progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to a person’s death. ALS was first discovered in 1869 by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, but it wasn’t until 1939 that Lou Gehrig brought national and international attention to the disease. Ending the career of one of the most beloved baseball players of all time, the disease is still most closely associated with his name.
Source: ALS Association