Benefit to help family of sick man

Published 9:46 am Saturday, June 6, 2009

FRANKLIN—First his arms stopped working. Then his legs.

In a matter of months, 34-year-old Michael Pittman’s ability to talk also was cut off. Pittman, who is at Southampton Memorial Hospital now battling pneumonia, has Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” or ALS.

It’s a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in his brain and spinal cord, making it impossible for his brain to control his muscle movement.

“The more it gets to your throat and bulbar area, the more it gets worse,” said his wife, Krystal. “It makes it really difficult to swallow. (Doctors are) worried about him aspirating now.”

Feeding and oxygen tubes now help Pittman eat and breathe. A suction machine clears mucus away from his throat because his muscles there have stopped working, too.

In a particularly cruel twist, Pittman, who was a real estate agent for William E. Wood in Franklin, is able to use his brain normally.

“He can’t work. The disease is so debilitating,” said his brother, Kevin. “He lost his speech, his coordination. There’s no cure for it other than trying to make him as comfortable as possible. I don’t know what else to do.”

Krystal, who is 24 and also the mother of two young children — Matthew Britton, 4, and Kailee Pittman, 2 — had to take an unpaid leave of absence from Lowe’s to help care for her husband. Pittman’s mom, Gloria Edwards, comes over daily, too, to help her son with stretching exercises.

“He’s a good man,” she said. “He’s worth it.”

The young couple had only been married a year when Pittman was diagnosed on Aug. 13, 2007. Kailee was 2 months old at the time.

“He went from the happiest day of his life seeing Kailee born to finding out he was pretty much getting a death sentence,” Kevin Pittman said. “That’s the hardest part for me. He would have been a great dad if only he had been given the chance. He won’t ever get that chance.”

Pittman, who grew up in Ivor and graduated from Southampton High School in 1992, continues to maintain a positive attitude.

He has been composing letters to his daughter and wife — mostly advice on what to do when she becomes a teenager — using an eye-gaze system on his computer.

“I get rules like she has to go to a real college,” Krystal said. “He jokes around a lot.”

“His sense of humor is probably what has kept him as strong as he has been,” Kevin Pittman said. “I get strength from him.”

Krystal added, “There’s not a day that goes by where he doesn’t smile or make someone else smile. He’s very, very high spirited.”

A Poker Run motorcycle ride benefit to help the family with mounting medical bills will be held Saturday, June 13.

The run, which begins at Fred’s Restaurant in downtown Franklin and ends at the Courtland Ruritan building, will consist of five stops. Riders will collect a card at each stop. The one with the best hand at the end wins a prize. Registration begins at 8 a.m.

A barbecue will start at 12:30 p.m. at the Ruritan building. Plates or pounds will sell for $7.

A horseshoe tournament, for $10 an entry, will begin at 2 p.m. A silent auction also will be held.

“We want to think the community for being there for us,” Kevin Pittman said. “A lot of families go through hardship and don’t have that community support. We’re very fortunate.”