By David Fong
TROY — Stan Bender and his wife Dee Dee have always done everything they possibly could to provide for and protect their three children.
They even tried to protect them from the truth.
“My parents didn’t tell us right away; they didn’t want us to worry,” said Madyson Bender, 22, whose father was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease — in December 2016. “That’s just how my dad is. I was away at college when they found out and they didn’t want to burden us at first.”
ALS is a nervous system disease that severely weakens muscles and impacts muscle function. There is no known cure for the disease, which gained worldwide attention in the summer of 2014 when the “Ice Bucket Challenge” went viral, raising more than $100 million in donations for treatment and research of the disease.
With May being ALS Awareness Month, the three Bender children — sisters Madyson, Ireland and their brother Tag — are hoping to continue to raise both money and awareness for the disease. They are encouraging people to visit their website, www.classy.org/fundraiser/1257360, in which all three take the “Hot Pepper Challenge.” The hot pepper challenge is similar to the Ice Bucket Challenge, the difference being participants are encouraged to eat the hottest pepper possible instead of dumping a bucket of ice water on themselves. All are encouraged to donate to ALS research while taking the challenge.
“It’s not an incurable disease, it’s an underfunded disease,” said Madyson Bender, a Troy High School and Miami University graduate currently working for Hobart Food Equipment Group in Troy.
Stan Bender first started noticing health problems a little more than two years ago. He initially was diagnosed with “drop foot” and began getting treatment for that, but his condition continued to deteriorate. After visiting specialists in St. Louis and Columbus, he was diagnosed with ALS.
Bender, who worked in commercial real estate and managed rental properties, was forced into a wheelchair full time in 2017. His children say the disease has taken a toll on his once tireless work ethic.
“He gets fatigued really easily,” said Ireland Bender, a student at Miami University. “He used to wake up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. and start work. He would work through lunch and not take a break. With me being away at college now, I feel like I can see the differences in him a lot more, not seeing him day-to-day. Sometimes I don’t see him for weeks at a time.”
Madyson said it’s been difficult to watch such a strong man battling such a debilitating disease.
“They told us they believed it was a slow-progressing form of ALS, but it doesn’t seem slow to us,” she said. “Starting this past fall, he really started losing a lot of his muscle movement. He can’t shuffle cards anymore. He can’t open a water bottle by himself anymore. There’s a lot of things he used to do that he struggles with now. When I talk to him, I can tell the difference in his voice.”
Through it all, though, all three Bender children agree their father has continued to do his best to provide for his family and put them first in his life.
“He’s been an inspiration to us,” said Tag, a freshman at Troy High School. “We’ve never heard him complain. He always puts us first. In a lot of ways, this has brought us all closer.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong