Larry Holtry is a positive guy. He always has been. He spent over 30 years in a lucrative sales career, where a positive attitude is essential to be successful. When he was diagnosed with ALS, Larry’s attitude remained optimistic. He said, “I just told myself, whatever time I have left, I’m going to make something of it.”
When Larry and his wife Jane invited me into their home, I asked Larry to share his story. He pointed to a dent in the wall of their hallway and said, “My story starts with that dent”. When Larry stubbed his toe one day and came crashing down, his head making the sizable dent in the wall, he knew something was wrong.
Larry went to his general practitioner with concerns about his legs shortly after he retired in May 2017. He then spent two years bouncing around to different doctors, physical therapists, and specialists. The doctors seemed perplexed by his test results, and he waited months to see a neurologist at OHSU. After a full EMG, they called him back.
Larry’s wife Jane retired on July 1st, and the pair was excited to finally embark on the traveling they had planned. Four days later, as Jane says, “That all went down the toilet.” On July 5th, Jane and Larry returned to OHSU, and Larry was diagnosed with ALS. At their first support group meeting less than two weeks later, Larry met parents whose son had recently died from ALS. They had a handicap accessible van to accommodate a wheelchair, which Larry still drives today, a freedom he does not take for granted.
Jane and Larry have been married for 16 years, and they both found incredible solace in the professional counseling they received separately after Larry’s diagnosis. It was trial and error, but they were able to process their own fears and anxieties and work through them together. Jane says after Larry was diagnosed, she tried to do everything for him- she was so afraid he would get hurt. Larry, on the other hand, wanted to do everything he had always done, and was frustrated that he couldn’t. Eventually, Jane realized she needed to let him do everything he could, and Larry learned to accept that there were things he could not do. Jane also learned to accept that Larry’s power wheelchair would inevitably make dents on the corners of the walls and baseboards.
Larry’s proactive nature is evident all around his house. During my visit, a construction crew was putting in a sidewalk for better gardening access via his powerchair. Larry and Jane both emphasized the importance of being proactive for those newly diagnosed with ALS. They advised not to wait for the day you need something, even if it’s as small as a bungee cord to help close a door, a trick Larry learned from Brian Epp at support group. They also stressed the importance of being your own advocate. Larry once spent a year resolving one health insurance issue and is not afraid to speak up and ask to speak to a supervisor to fiercely advocate for himself.
Larry considers himself very lucky. He often drives his grandkids to school in the morning and picks them up in the afternoon. His granddaughter Molly, who started kindergarten this year, loves riding on the footrest of Papa’s power chair all the way up to the front door of the school. Larry can be seen gardening from his power chair throughout spring and summer, and his tomatoes had such rave reviews that I may find myself back at his house in August!
Larry and Jane have a lot to be grateful for, including a community of helpful neighbors, many years of great memories, and family nearby. Still, I wondered how Larry could be so sunny. His response was, “Stuff happens. If you can’t wake up in the morning and smell the flowers, how do you go on?” I will think of Larry next time I remember to pause and smell the daffodils, take in a beautiful sunset, or appreciate the beauty of my loved ones.
-Annie Teer, Development and Communications Coordinator