August 10, 2018
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  • Derek Brennan, seen here with wife Christina, is facing a dire diagnosis with ALS. Doctors gave him only two to five years to live once the ALS had fully set in.
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    Derek Brennan, seen here with wife Christina, is facing a dire diagnosis with ALS. Doctors gave him only two to five years to live once the ALS had fully set in.

With Family By His Side, Pasadena Man Bravely Battles ALS

Kerrigan Stern
Kerrigan Stern's picture
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July 10, 2018

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known ALS, is a disease that affects the nervous system, weakening muscles and impairing physical function. While Stephen Hawking is perhaps the most famous person who has been affected by this disease, Pasadena has an example closer to home: Derek Brennan.

Nearly two years ago, the Pasadena resident was diagnosed with ALS. His symptoms, however, started about a half-year before that.

“Friends and family started noticing his speech tending to be a little off. They weren’t understanding,” said Derek’s wife, Christina Brennan. “That was about March of 2016. We thought it was just another episode of his deviated septum surgery that was in January. We thought once that got completed, maybe it was something else that needed to be done afterward. So we really didn’t think anything of it.”

The Brennans met with an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor, and when no issues were discovered, they sought a second opinion.

“One ENT said there’s nothing wrong with the previous surgery, there’s nothing more needed to be done, and he recommended to go get an MRI of the brain and then to see a neurologist,” Christina said.

Once the couple saw the neurologist, a doctor specialized in the anatomy of the brain, their worst fears were confirmed.

“He was officially diagnosed by a third neurologist at [Johns] Hopkins with ALS, and the MRI confirmed that,” said Christina. “From what we’ve been told, there’s a few different levels of ALS. One goes from the head down first [and] one goes from the feet up first, is how they explained it. His speech first started going and then [the effects of the ALS] went to his hands … Over the next few months, his walking slowly deteriorated. He is to the point now where he’s completely bed-bound. He cannot move. He can’t speak. He converses through a tablet, which is controlled by his eyes. He’s on a trach tube and a [ventilator], which means he can no longer eat anything. Other than that, his brain acts and functions normally. He just cannot move or do anything.”

Derek used to attend his son’s soccer games, ride his Suzuki motorcycle and relish his time outdoors.

“He loved his job as a handyman and always liked different challenges that he would have to look up and figure out on his own,” Christina said, “whether it was fixing vehicles, homes or electronics, he was always able to fix them on his own and enjoyed accomplishing things like that.”

Now, he is relying on others to help him. After diagnosing Derek with this dire disease, doctors gave him only a two- to five-year life expectancy after the ALS had fully set in.

“He’s got the quicker diagnosis, because I guess it started from the head down. I don’t think he’ll go past the two- to five-year mark,” said his wife, explaining how he’s already been affected by pneumonia several times due to his weakened immune system.

But amid this devastating news, the Brennans received some unexpected hope. Judy Dickert, the president of Ravens Roost 129 of Lake Shore, had heard about Derek’s diagnosis from a bartender at Twain’s Tavern in Pasadena. Once she learned about his condition, she used Ravens Roost to take action.

“We held a paint night for him and we raised [money] doing a 50/50, which raised $125, and painting, which raised $400,” said Dickert. Additionally, they “raffled off an old basket one of our Roost members, [Dawn Davis], made and we raised $ 1,050.”

The part-owner of Twain’s Tavern also donated $100 to assist with Derek’s medical bills and for treatments to promote his healing. In total, this fundraiser raised $1,675, according to Dickert. Christina said the funds will help with medical bills and supplies that are not covered through insurance.

Although Derek is still experiencing the effects of this terrible, incurable disease, the Brennans know that others are looking out for them, which makes this uphill journey all the more tolerable.

“I think [Ravens Roost] did pretty good for not knowing our story or who we were,” said Christina. “I felt appreciated that they were willing to do a fundraiser and to donate on our behalf.”

Christina will continue to help Derek while cherishing the time spent with her “outgoing” husband.

“He never had a mean bone in his body,” she said. “He was willing to do anything for anybody. And he’s a great father.”


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