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For Softball Coaches, Fundraiser Hits Close to Home
- Apr 19 2013
By Pat De Mono
The April 9 varsity softball game between Port Jervis and Delaware Valley produced a victor (PJHS Lady Raiders 11, DV Lady Warriors 5), but the true winner didn't appear on the scoreboard.
The nonleague game, hosted by Port Jervis, was a fundraiser in support of the Parkinson's Disease Foundation - a cause that hits close to home for both teams' head coaches.
DV's Angelo Matz and PJHS's John Faggione have both had family members afflicted with Parkinson's and have each been profoundly affected by it.
Matz's mother-in-law, Helen Gray, wife of former state senator and Port Jervis Mayor E. Arthur Gray, died in 2010 after battling the chronic and progressive disease for some three years.
"She was one of the sweetest women you'd ever meet," says Matz. "To us, she meant everything."
Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement and coordination. It can begin innocuously with a twitch or a tremor, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, and can advance to acute loss of muscle and even cognitive function. The cause is unknown, and there is no cure.
"It's a brutal illness," says Matz. "At first, you're not even sure what it is. It sneaks up on you. And then they tell you it's Parkinson's ..."
Although commonly thought of as a disease of the elderly - and Parkinson's is, in fact, most prevalent after age 50 - it can strike much earlier, as in the case of actor Michael J. Fox, diagnosed at 30. Young-onset Parkinson's also victimized Faggione's father, James, who died in 1999 after battling the disease for almost two decades.
"My dad was in his 30s," says Faggione, "younger than I am now."
Only 9 years old when his father's first symptoms appeared, Faggione remembers that by the time he graduated high school at 18, the disease had become debilitating.
"He couldn't do any physical labor," says Faggione. "He couldn't play
catch or shoot hoops ... Shortly before he passed, he had a hard time getting off the couch or out of a chair."
Although severely impaired physically, says Faggione, his father "was there in every other way because the mind stays sharp."
Matz agrees that one of the most cruel aspects of Parkinson's is that mental function is frequently unaffected as motor movement becomes slowed and rigid. Matz's wife, Brigid, compares her mother's illness to "being trapped in your own body."
What made it especially poignant, she says, is that her mother was a registered nurse. "She knew what was coming."
Remembering a mother who was "genteel" but "who fought 'til the bitter end," Matz recalls her parents' devotion to each other.
"My father used to say 'Let me live one day beyond my wife' because he wanted to take care of her."
Sadly, Gray passed away three years before his wife, just as her symptoms of Parkinson's were beginning to appear.
Matz and Faggione are best friends, as close as brothers - and the most amicable of rivals. More important than the softball competition, they say, is the raising of funds through the PDF Champions program, the grass-roots fundraising arm of PDF, and the raising of awareness.
It is also important to each to honor their loved ones who fought a devastating disease with grace.
"I think (my father) will see us playing the game and he'll know we're doing this for him," says Faggione.
And of Helen Gray, a doting grandmother to his four children, Matz says, "People in town who knew her can appreciate what she went through and how hard it was for her. But she did it with dignity. She was that type of lady."
By the close of game activities, pledges and sponsorships were still being tallied, but the coaches were hopeful that the original goal of $1,000 had been exceeded. To make a donation to Parkinson's research, visit www.pdf.org.
Source Date: Apr 19 2013
Source Publication: Times Herald Record
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