Dressed in a grey sweatshirt, Araceli Bonilla braved the cold temperatures that plagued the Valley last weekend in honor of her mother, Olga.
Bonilla was one of nearly 200 people at Bannworth Park Saturday, Nov. 10 who participated in Mission’s 4th annual Walk to End ALS.
“We’re here because we want to give awareness of the illness my mother had, awareness in hopes that it leads to people finding a cure or to better prepare families when a loved one is diagnosed with ALS,” Bonilla said.
Olga was diagnosed with ALS-Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis- in 2007. ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, rendering most patients totally paralyzed and with a life expectancy of three to five years following a diagnosis, according to the ALS Association.
As many as 30,000 Americans are affected by the disease, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
The walk was among several held nationwide to commemorate those affected by ALS and to raise awareness of it.
Bonilla, whose sweatshirt read in pink “In loving Memory of Mom-Olga L. Bonilla,” was accompanied by her husband and her sister. All three wore matching sweatshirts.
Despite living in New Braunfels, Bonilla and her husband say it makes sense to attend the walks in Mission.
“This is where she was diagnosed, and this is where she died.” Bonilla said. “She was misdiagnosed with other diseases before it was narrowed down to ALS. We had to travel to see a specialist in San Antonio since there wasn’t one down here back then.”
Olga eventually died in 2009 as a result of the disease, the sisters said.
“My mom was a great person and a great mom,” Araceli recalled at the walk. “She maintained her positive attitude throughout the whole thing even though it was extremely difficult for her. She didn’t want us to worry about her.”
The story of Olga Bonilla and her family is similar to other people attending the walk, according to Linda Quiroz, care service coordinator for the ALS Association.
Despite being surrounded by loss, members of the walk are reminded of the close-knit community that can be formed from ALS, Quiroz said.
“This walk and others in the state have one thing in common: support,” Quiroz said. “All day we have people doing cheers and supporting one another and coming from all over the state. It’s a close-knit community being formed here to raise awareness.”
Norma Saenz from Donna was attending the walk with her family. She was walking for her husband, Gilbert, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2013.
“We were in denial when he was first diagnosed,” Saenz recalled. “We kept going to different hospitals and seeing different specialists around the country, but we kept getting the same answer and we had no choice but to confront it.”
Gilbert, who worked as an accountant prior to his diagnosis, was confined to a wheelchair and hooked up to an oxygen machine as a result of the disease. Saenz pushed him around during the walk.
“We’re going through this as a family and even with his diagnosis, we’ve been blessed,” Saenz said. “We keep coming to these walks every year because it’s so uplifting and encouraging to see other people like us facing this disease but taking it one day at a time. It makes us strong enough to continue to face it.”
For more information or to donate to ALS support and research, visit www.alstexas.org.