By Lindsey Temple
News Star Reporter
She walks in with a purpose, heavy bags draped across her shoulders, her pregnant belly just barely showing and her eyes displaying a sense of kind urgency, she greets me with a purposeful smile while glancing at the clock.
On this day Krystal Hedgecoth, 22, is spending her lunch hour telling her heartbreaking story, opposed to the usual lunch hour which consists of walking the streets of downtown Pauls Valley in the late spring time heat, asking for donations or simply a place to hang a flyer.
On February 23, 2010, Krystal sat beside the love of her life surrounded by family at the University of Oklahoma’s Medical Center, while one of the nation’s leading neurologists broke the news.
Krystal’s boyfriend of nine months, Kenneth Hedgecoth, at the age of 27, was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, an incurable, fatal neuromuscular disease, characterized by progressive muscle weakness resulting in paralysis.
Approximately 14 cases of ALS are diagnosed each day nationwide and most of those cases are in people 40-70 years of age with a life expectancy of three to five years.
Up until this point, simple tasks like holding hammers or shuffling cards had begun to present difficulty for Kenneth but it wasn’t until the inactivity in his left hand began interfering with his job in the construction industry, that Kenneth decided to seek medical attention and was told by many medical professionals that he was suffering from the effects of a pulled muscle.
Krystal remembers that day with great sadness but with immense clarity, “I will never forget the feeling of shock and anger that came over me. His mom and step dad were there with us and our hearts just sank.”
“I knew what it was because I had heard the story of Lou Gehrig, many years ago. I was scared,” explained Donna Barbee, Kenneth’s mother.
Krystal and Kenneth, or “Bub” as he is known among the people that love him, were not yet married at the time of the diagnosis and although Krystal was just 19, she knew she could not leave him.
“What kind of person would I be to have left the person I love just because they were diagnosed with something like that? I sometimes ask myself why, but I could not have left him. He saved me, his love saved me,” explained Krystal as she wiped a very small tear from her eye, catching it before it fell.
Krystal and “Bub” were married on March 19, 2011 and are now expecting their first child in October, a little girl which they plan to name Minlee Mae, a collaboration of family names.
“If it had been a boy, we would have named him River,” explained Krystal, paying homage to the couple’s love of the water.
“I’m 20 weeks along today,” exclaimed Krystal, with a smile. “She’s really a blessing because we didn’t know if I could have children.”
Though despite the joy of her pregnancy, Krystal’s focus and mission remain clear, to help Oklahoma get its very own ALS Association Chapter.
“Oklahoma doesn’t currently have one and we need one,” explained Krystal.
ALS Association Chapters exist nationwide as a grass-roots effort to provide knowledge, support and assistance to families and individuals with ALS through the ALS Association.
Over the next three to six months after the diagnosis, “Bub’s” muscle inactivity moved from his left hand into his left arm and into his left foot, causing the once able-bodied young man, to trip over his own foot.
In the last six months, “Bub’s” condition has declined so that he is now wheelchair bound most of his days and simple tasks like swallowing have began to present difficulty.
“We have some days when we get mad, mad at the disease, mad at what’s happened, just angry,” said Krystal, “but we remain hopeful and I don’t ever think about my life without him.”
Krystal and “Bub” have a tremendous support system made up of family and friends.
“Bub” has many siblings including 5 sisters and 6 brothers who have all been saddened by the young couples struggles, most of all “Bub’s” younger brother, Dennis Hedgecoth.
Being only three years apart, “Bub” and Dennis have always been extremely close.
According to Barbee, “Bub” has worried more about his brother and how he is coping, than, often times, he does about himself.
“We’re a strong family, we stick together,” said Barbee.
Prior to the disease “Bub” and Krystal were avid outdoorsmen, enjoying hunting, fishing but most of all, noodling.
I let out a giggle at the thought of this small blond girl with perfect make-up and jewelry nothing short of feminine, catching fish with her bare hands or at least assisting.
No longer able to enjoy these activities like he once did, “Bub” declines invites for fear of being a burden on his family and friends, explained Barbee.
When asked what she loved most about “Bub”, Krystal answered with a smile.
“His thoughtfulness, he’s so caring and thoughtful, he would do anything for anyone.”
“He has always put other people first,” agreed Barbee.
Lou Gehrig once said, “I might have been given a bad break but I’ve got an awful lot to live for,” and according to Krystal, so does “Bub”.
With help from family and friends, Krystal plans to take one of “Bub’s” most beloved hobbies – noodling – and create an event open to the community to help her family financially and to help research for the disease.
“There is no hope for families like ours, no cure, no cause, nothing. I just want to make it easier for families’ battling this,” explained Krystal.
Proceeds from the event will be split in half, half going towards research and the other half will go to help with unexpected medical expenses for “Bub.”
The event will be held on Saturday, June 9, from 7a.m. to 10p.m. in Pauls Valley’s Wacker Park.
There will be numerous events for kids and family friendly activities, everyone is welcome.
No alcohol is allowed at the event.
Entry forms for this event can be found around local businesses or for more information contact Krystal Hedgecoth at 405-207-4783.