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Charla (Cunningham/Wideman) Berryhill started showing signs of muscle/nerve weakness about 2 1/2 years ago. She would type and her left pinky finger wouldn't move even though her brain was telling it to. Eventually they diagnosed it as an ulnar nerve issue and did surgery on her left elbow and hand (for carpal tunnel) in February 2015. She went to physical therapy but things just didn't go back to "normal." She wasn't able to open jars anymore or hold things between her fingers and thumb. Charla and her husband Skip moved out to Arizona that following July. That was a true blessing for me as I was pregnant with our second baby due in October and was looking forward to having my mom around for moral support.
Mom was losing more motion of her left hand but was still able to change diapers and hold Natalie while I would shower while on maternity leave at the end of 2015. I called mom Natalie's "snuggle buddy" as she would come over every weekday for 2-3 hours and just hold her while she slept. Mom started to lose the ability to move her left arm altogether but it didn't stop her from seeing those grandbabies! She still came over to my house a couple of times a week after I got off work to help with the kiddos. Since she was still having issues with her arm, she went to see her primary care doctor who referred her to a neurologist to perform tests. He found what was soon to be indicators of the disease ALS. In February 2016, mom received the diagnosis of Bi-brachial Motor Neuron Disease (MND) as the loss she was experiencing was mainly in her left arm and limited in her right one. A full diagnosis of ALS meant her lower extremities were affected, which, in her case, they were not at the time. The doctor said that patients live 2-5 years and if they keep a positive outlook, that can increase by 50%. He also said that MND was not as aggressive as an ALS diagnosis so things were looking better (given the circumstances.)
I got a call on Memorial Day 2016 from Skip saying that my mom had fallen. I went to their house and we had to help her get a shower to go to the emergency room. Charla apparently has a high pain tolerance as the poor gal broke her right shoulder and tore some ligaments in her neck with that fall. Surgery wasn't necessary for the shoulder based on the fracture area so she did physical therapy and had to wear a neck brace for a while. When she went to see her neurologist soon thereafter, the diagnosis changed to ALS. ALS affects your lower limbs and the fall she had was because of weakness in her legs. After the fall in May, things have progressed pretty quickly. She stopped being able to drive because of limited use of her arms. And then she started having problems walking. She needed assistance and used a cane briefly. At home, they got her a lift chair and lots of other cool assistance vehicles so she could get places. But as time went by, she had a couple more falls injuring more of her pride than her body. A couple of months ago, they decided that she would need to be on bedrest. Hospice was called in to provide daily caregiving and medical care.
Although Charla is battling an ugly disease that has taken so much away from her physically, it hasn't taken her caring spirit. Or her sense of humor. Or her stubbornness. Or her faith. I feel all of these have gotten stronger with every loss she experiences.
I think it is nearing the end of her journey. ALS is a horrible disease with no cure. It affects people in so many different ways that no one can tell us what to expect next. All I know is that she is loved beyond words by her friends and family. The one thing I hope others take away from her struggle is something she said to me the other day. "You never know what's going to happen in your life so you shouldn't put things off for tomorrow."
I want to share any well wishes you have with my mom and keep you updated as things progress. Your prayers are welcomed as God is in charge.