dan wright


Dan Wright sent along periodic notes to the class -- a great way to stay in touch, and share some of his experiences which we called “Dan's Corner. “ His note began Jaunary 27, 2009, with the last note coming in Springtime 2015, prior to our 50th Reunion.
For our 50th reunion, Dan was no longer able to travel. So, we utilized technology and created a pair of YouTube videos that were shared back and forth. Here are the two conversations – Dan to us, and classmates at the reunion to Dan.
Here’s Dan.  https://youtu.be/xjBfIZuRvkU;
and our response back to Dan (https://youtu.be/KvehbbYIYE8 )

As most all of us know, Danny Wright had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Over the past six decades, Danny wore many hats. When we first encountered Dan, he was a helper on the family farm, still in operation and located on Leyden Road - a dawn to dusk routine. After GHS, Dan spent some time at UMass Stockbridge, but not long. He joined the Navy in 1966 and had a variety of adventures with them -- not in Viet Nam.
Post military career, Dan entered the world of business, office furniture and supplies. He eased his way into banking in 1988 and continued that career until he became the Virginia Regional Director for the Arthritis Foundation in 1999. Early this century, Dan was President and owner of Closet & Storage Concepts until his retirement.
Starting at about age 39, Dan got hooked on running, an interest he maintained for the rest of his life. Roanoke named a runner's trail head for Dan in the early 2000’s with a big celebration of Dan's contributions to the community... awards from the mayor and all! 
Dan  mentored new runners in the sport, even while wearing his newest hat - that one in the face of death. ALS has no clearcut causes and there is no cure. He had an undefined clock ticking away. He spent his final years at the Brian Center in Fincastle, Virginia, a tiny hamlet in the Blue Ridge Moutains, just outside of his hometown of Roanoke. Dan's last big outing was the trip to Greenfield for our 60th Birthday Party bash in the Fall of 2007.
Dan left us December 21, 2015.

Reprinted from August 30, 2008 from Dan's sister Brenda. [Dan’s partner of some 24 years was also named Brenda (McDaniel)]
Dear Family and Friends,
It has been 2 years now since Dan was diagnosed with ALS. Last September he stopped breathing and collapsed at home and ended up in the hospital. It turned out that he had pneumonia. He was in ICU for 6 weeks, during which time he had a tracheotomy and now needs a ventilator to breathe. Dan can no longer have solid food. He gets all of his nourishment through his feeding tube.
He is currently in a nursing facility and has the nurses get him out of bed 2 or 3 times a week to sit in his wheelchair. He enjoys email, games on the internet and listening to music. Although he no longer has the use of his legs, he is currently coaching a beginning runner and a runner who is training for her first marathon.
With your involvement, we can help make a difference not only in Dan's life, but in the lives of all ALS patients and their families. This is our opportunity to work together to support those affected by ALS and to spread awareness of the urgency to find treatments and a cure.Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis can strike anyone. Every 90 minutes, someone is diagnosed with ALS and every 90 minutes another person will lose their battle against this disease. The cause is not known. There is no cure.
ALS is a progressive disease that primarily affects motor neurons, the nerve cells that connect the brain to muscles throughout the body. This break down of tissues in the nervous system affects the nerves responsible for movement, often leaving patients unable to move, speak, swallow and ultimately, breathe. ALS almost always causes complete paralysis, and it doesn't go into remission. Most patients with ALS die within two to five years of diagnosis. [Dan lived a bit more than 9 years.]


FOLLOWING ARE THE NOTES WE RECEIVED FROM DANNY, FROM MOST RECENT BACK TO HIS FIRST NOTE IN 2009

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Springtime 2015 - and Last Note From Dan Wright
"Hello classmates! I'm still feeling good after several years with ALS! I'm still surviving because many classmates pray for me. I'm still lifted into my chair twice a week and Brenda and I go outside when it's warm enough. We have been together 23 years and seven months. Big reunion coming up. [our 50th class reunion]. Hope to be there via Skype".

April 17, 2013
Here's finally an update on me for you and other classmates.  I'm still surviving and feeling good, probably because many classmates pray for me. I'm still lifted into my power chair twice a week and Brenda and I go outside when it's warm enough.
I have a different computer now. I use my eyes to dwell letters and words, no mouse or glasses anymore.  I've been in this facility for five years and five months.  I miss going to Greenfield, especially for reunions.  I'm still hoping for a cure for ALS.
Best wishes to all classmates!

November 6, 2011 update
In October 2004 a local neurologist [in Virginia] thought that I had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). 22 months later I was officially diagnosed with this fatal disease. I feel fortunate that I’m still surviving. I believe the main reason is that many people pray for me, including lots of classmates.
I’ve been confined to a bed in a Rehab Center (in Fincastle, Virginia) since November 7, 2007. I still feel good and am lifted into my power chair twice a week and Brenda and I go outside when the weather is good.
I’m doing a combination of dwelling my eyes and clicking my mouse with this message. Since my hands can barely move and I no longer have a voice I got a new computer in July 2011 which I’ll eventually just use my eyes to dwell letters and words. My computer also speaks to people.
Sorry I missed the recent reunion, but I really appreciate all the nice notes on Shirley Nelson’s very nice picture card.
Best wishes to all of you.
Dan Wright

Thank You GHS – March 2010
I feel honored to have made it through my 63rd birthday recently. In October 2004 I was told that I probably had ALS. At that time I wondered if I would make it to age 60. I was amazed at the number of cards and e-mails that I received from classmates. I still believe that thoughts and prayers from so many classmates help me survive.
Fortunately I’m in about the same condition that I was in January. Thanks to the many classmates that keep me from going downhill fast.  I wish I could attend the reunion this year, but unless a miracle happens I will not be able to.

Update – January 13, 2010
First of all I feel grateful that I survived another year!  I know several classmates think of me often, and are wondering how I’m doing.  I can no longer move my legs, feet and right arm and hand. My left arm and hand are gradually becoming weaker. I can still type, but I need assistance to put my hand on the mouse.  I’m still lifted into my power chair twice a week. Once the temperature warms up Brenda and I will go outside again.
I truly appreciate all the classmates, friends and family who pray for me often. That helps me survive. Even though I can’t do much now, I’m happy to be alive.

Update - July 2009 Co-written by Brenda McDaniel
I’m very happy that my partner (Brenda McDaniel) and I were able to attend the GHS 60th Birthday Party in September 2007. At that time I was still able to drive, stand briefly and operate my manual wheelchair. I had also ordered a wheelchair lift so that I could get in and out of our house easier. On September 26, 2007 I nearly died. I remember feeling extra weak and using a rental suction machine to try to get secretions out of my throat. I was very lucky that Brenda got home from work in time to save my life that day. Below is her story:
As Dan said, I did arrive home from work a few minutes early on that evening of Sept. 26. Dan had been struggling with the built up secretions for weeks, even when we were in New England for the birthday party. The attendant who delivered the rented suction machine the night before said he thought Dan should consider going to the emergency room, but Dan said no. By the time I got home from work, Dan had been trying all day to clear his throat and lungs. I helped him hold his Bi-Pap breathing machine up to his face from time to time to get some breathing relief. Then suddenly, he just stopped breathing and fell forward in his wheel chair. I called 911 immediately although I was sure Dan was dead. I recall running through the house screaming, “Oh, my god, he’s dead; he’s dead!” The 911 operator told me to calm down and listen carefully to her instructions of what to do while the squad made its way to our home. She told me to get him into the floor on his back and I have no idea how I accomplished that feat. The dispatcher told me how to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and chest compressions. I don’t think I saved his life because I had not had a response when the rescue crew arrived and took over. They saved Dan’s life and whisked us off to the hospital. Some neighbors stayed behind to wash my dishes and clean up after the rescue crew. Other neighbors went to the hospital to wait with me while Dan was treated. Somehow the running community got the word out that Dan was down and Dan’s closest running buddies were at the hospital almost before he was and stayed by his side all evening.
It was determined that Dan had pneumonia, a common and often deadly ailment for ALS patients, and he couldn’t live without a breathing tube and a ventilator, basically life support. Was that what he wanted? We didn’t know for sure. Did he have a living will that would have told us? No, we had discussed it, but he’d never said for sure. Through a series of hand squeezes, it was determined that yes, he did want this life saving measure taken. My biggest fear then was that he would be brain damaged as a result of the oxygen deprivation he sustained during his respiratory failure. Such was not the case. I think he’s even smarter and quicker and has a better memory now than he had then. So after a couple of weeks with the breathing tube, the doctors asked Dan if he wanted to have a tracheostomy to install a permanent breathing tube and a ventilator that would support his breathing for the rest of his life. He chose to have it, knowing it was the only way he could survive. We hoped that he might be able to come home and that somehow I and others could care for him, but he needed more care than could be provided at home and besides, Medicare and Medicaid will not pay for home care. Most home health personnel won’t even take on vent patients.
While Dan mourns silently for the things he can no longer do, he is living a life based on what he can do and what he does have, which include people who love him and admire him and are inspired by him. He keeps in great mental shape as he once kept in physical shape. His memory is phenomenal; the only thing he doesn’t remember is what happened to him on the night of September 26, 2007.
Currently I’m in about the same condition as I was a month ago. Even though I’ve been confined to a nursing home for twenty months I’m still happy to be here. I still have several visitors, and stay in contact with many friends and relatives. Brenda and I have been together for nearly eighteen years.
PS from Brenda: And I’m glad he’s here too.


Update – June 2009
A local neurologist told me in October 2004 that he thought I had the ALS disease. After 22 months of testing it was finally confirmed. I’ve been slowly going downhill since March 2000. Many people with ALS go much faster.
My arms, hands and legs have become weaker during the past few months, but so far I can still type. I also go outside once or twice a week in my power chair. I mentioned the details of my typing in my “Writing Efforts” article. My major concerns are moving my head (since most of my neck muscles have disappeared), and finding someone to set my computer up daily.
Thanks to Jud Duncan’s advice I’ll be donating blood samples to ALS Research this week, and eventually part of my body. Hopefully it’ll help find a cure for future patients.


Some Favorites -- March 31, 2009 
Cruises were my favorite vacations. I went on seven Caribbean cruises a few years ago and enjoyed every one. I also enjoyed two trips to San Francisco and Dublin, Ireland.
I looked forward to my annual trips to Vermont and Greenfield. One of my favorite training runs was in my hometown at Tunbridge, Vermont. I was there for a family reunion and ran twelve miles past our old farm, through covered bridges, on dirt roads past some of my relative’s farms and very much enjoyed the nice weather and scenery.
My favorite marathons were Charlotte, NC (four consecutive years) and Columbus, Ohio (two years).
One of my favorite volunteer efforts was the Greenway. After about eighteen months of meetings we finally had permission to start building a trail. Many volunteers helped build a half mile trail through the woods in my neighborhood. For the next seven years more trails and bridges were built. Now that particular trail is complete, and is two and a half miles long.
My favorite house is the one Brenda and I moved into in 1993. It’s a 1923 English Tudor with three stories and a basement. We have a screen porch, a nice patio with a water fountain and a garage. We also have several large oak trees in the back yard, which keep the house cooler in the summer. I wish I could still live there.

Former Jobs -- March 25, 2009
After leaving the Navy I spent the next eighteen years working at various commercial office furniture companies. During that time I delivered, installed, repaired, sold, purchased and inventoried furniture and other equipment. I also scheduled deliveries and hired and supervised employees.
Then I was hired by Dominion Bank as a purchasing agent. For five years I selected vendors, ordered materials, scheduled and supervised installations and moves, attended meetings, travelled and helped open and close branches. I traveled a lot in rental cars and occasionally in the company’s private plane. That was my favorite job.
Then First Union Bank took over. For the next four years I supervised workers and coordinated department relocations and re-configurations. For the next two years I reviewed and analyzed reports in Commercial Loan Servicing. That was boring so I accepted an offer to be Regional Director for Southwest Virginia for the Arthritis Foundation.
While working at the bank I did a fair amount of volunteer work. I was on a Greenway committee and supported the neighborhood Civic League. I served as a Loaned Employee for the United Way for two years and also was on other United Way committees. I was president of the local running club for three years and coached runners for the Leukemia Society for marathons in San Francisco, San Diego and Dublin, Ireland.
After two years with the Arthritis Foundation I was talked in to buying a small business. That was my worst job. I usually spent 70 or 80 hours per week working, and had very little income. Fortunately after two and a half years a competitor bought my company and hired me. They were very nice and allowed me to visit many doctors to confirm my diagnosis. After about eighteen months I was officially on disability (January 2006) and could no longer work.

Writing Efforts -- March 18, 2009
It’s become tougher for me to type over the past two years, due to my disease. Both arms and hands gradually get weaker. I switched from right to left a couple years ago.
About a year ago I could no longer type on my laptop keyboard. The ALS Association installed Click-N-Type for me at no charge. It’s basically a keyboard on my screen that I can type one letter at a time with my wireless mouse. We recently had to move the mouse to my lap because my left arm weakened.
ALS also installed a unit called E-triloquist V5.7. With it I can type words, click on a button and the laptop speaks. It helps since my voice is nearly gone.
My left hand and fingers are getting weaker and shakier, so I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to use my mouse. I do have one more option. ALS has installed a program called Smart Nav Head Tracking. With a dot on my glasses I simply move my head to move the arrow on the screen. While holding still for two seconds it will type or click. Since my neck muscles are gradually going away I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to use it, but I’ll try!
I cannot think of many more stories to write about, if you have suggestions please let me know. I like Facebook but it’s too much effort for me. Don’t be surprised if I don’t respond to you there.

Navy Days -- March 10, 2009
I had a choice of being drafted into the Army or joining another military group. I had planned to join the Air Force but the officer was away from the recruiting office. The Navy recruiter talked me into joining his group.
I joined the Navy in October 1966. I was at Great Lakes for boot camp and training until March 1967. I did Radioman training in Maryland from March to June 1967.
I joined Inshore Undersea Warfare Group 2 (IUWG2) at Little Creek, Virginia in July 1967. I took a short cruise in 1967, two five month cruises to the Mediterranean in 1968 and one five month Mediterranean cruise in 1969. I did radioman duties while on the ships. While in the Mediterranean I visited Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Malta and other places.
In 1970 I spent three months in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We lived in a tent near the water. We were able to play with iguanas and enjoy the beautiful clear water. While I was there I obtained the best suntan of my life.
I had been smoking for four or five years (averaging three packs per day) and had recently bought ten cartons of cigarettes (at $2.50 per carton). While drinking outside of the tent one evening we discussed smoking. One of my buddies said to me “there’s no way in hell that you can ever stop smoking!” Within a few days I had totally stopped, sold my ten cartons, and haven’t smoked since.
We returned to Little Creek in May and I was released in July 1970 and moved to Roanoke, Virginia. I was happy to be released and proud to have served.
Being in the Navy was the slowest time of my life. We used to count the number of days we had left. Until I got this strange disease I wished that time went by as slow as the Navy days. Even though I’m confined to this bed, time still doesn’t go as slowly as those Navy days.

GHS Reunions -- March 2, 2009
I missed the first reunion in 1970. I don’t remember if I was still in the Navy, getting married or working my first job in Roanoke.   I attended the next seven and enjoyed them all. I’ve made lots of friends that I didn’t even know in high school.
One of my favorite things was drinking Mimosas on the school bus while touring schools. The best part was seeing and socializing with friends.
I also enjoyed attending the 60th birthday party in September 2007. It was a lot of effort for me to get there, but it was definitely worth it. I knew that it would be my last chance to see high school friends.
Unless a miracle cure happens I won’t be able to attend any more reunions.
I appreciate the folks who arranged all the reunions. Thank you!!

Missing Running -- February 24, 2009
I only ran from age 39 until 57, but I feel that it was one of the most important things in my life. After running for a few months I felt younger and in much better shape than before.
After completing my first marathon (at age 44) I felt much more confident, and knew that I could handle many things in life. I had planned to run for several more years, but this strange disease gave me no choice. I believe that being a runner has kept me alive longer than I would have otherwise.
Now that I’m confined to a bed and can hardly do anything myself, I still miss running. Not being able to run is one of the worst parts of this disease.
I’m still amazed from the regular support that I receive from many former running partners, friends and family.


Winter Weather -- February 17, 2009
Since I moved to the Roanoke, Virginia area in 1970, the weather has changed. We used to get lots of snow and occasional ice storms here. Recently we’ve had very little snow or ice.
The temperatures are usually much warmer here than in New England.
I remember one winter in the early 1960’s in Greenfield, the temperature stayed below zero for thirty days. That made it tougher to do farm work.
I also remember that when it finally reached 32 degrees I was out playing in the yard wearing a t-shirt. It felt nice and warm!
Best wishes to everyone for the remainder of this winter.

Daily Routine -- February 10, 2009
My routine changes occasionally when certain muscles disappear. Being confined to a bed doesn’t get too boring.
A nurse gives me medicines and canned food through my feeding tube a few times daily. A respiratory therapist (RT) does my tracheotomy care, suctions my lungs and gives me breathing treatments daily. The aides change me a few times daily, and offer bed baths and change my shirt a few times per week.
The RT sets up my laptop in the morning. I check my e-mail daily, play some FreeCell games, do a daily Jigsaw puzzle and donate food to the hungry by playing FreeRice online. I also do online crossword puzzles. On Monday and Tuesday I usually complete them. The rest of week they’re normally too difficult for me.
I turn off the computer at 5:55 and watch TV until about 9:00. Jeopardy is my favorite show, and I occasionally get answers right.
Every few days I’m lifted into my power chair (which I can still operate). The RT goes with me to take care of a ventilator and oxygen tank. On warm days we go outside. Otherwise we simply cruise around the hallways and sit at the nurse’s station.
I also have visitors fairly often.

Farm Days -- February 3, 2009
I remember getting up at 4:30 am to work on my family dairy farm. I worked before and after school, weekends and holidays. I also remember several high school and church buddies visiting the farm to play football and spend the night in our cabin in the woods.
I enjoyed watching high school friends launch rockets on the farm.  I wish I could still do things like that.

January 27, 2009 - Dealing with Death
Until age 53 in 2000 my body was in very good shape. I was planning to live another thirty or forty years. After noticing that something was wrong I started visiting doctors and going through tests. In October 2004 I was told that I probably had a deadly disease with no cure. That was confirmed in August 2006.
My muscles have gradually gone away and now I’m confined to bed. It’s been somewhat frustrating having to deal with all the changes.
I try to keep a positive attitude. The support of friends and family has helped tremendously.
With a disease like this you never know how long you will last. I’ve already made arrangements for my crematory services. I’m planning to stay around until I can no longer communicate, then I’ll say goodbye and go to heaven.