Community huddles up for Coach Kelly
BY CHRISTOPHER O'DONNELL
NORTH MANATEE -- Kelly Reynolds has only lived in North Manatee for a short time, but he has already affected hundreds of lives.
Three years ago, Reynolds founded the North Manatee Storm, a Pop Warner football program that now has about 150 players and cheerleaders. Now battling against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a small team of people sprung up to give back to the 40-year-old.
Close friends and relatives help care for Reynolds and are asking Manatee County officials to proclaim a Coach Kelly Day to recognize his contribution to the community.
"He's just been a tremendous giving person without asking in return," said Parrish resident Mary Jo Lark, a retired nurse who helps the family.
Lou Gehrig's disease was named after New York Yankees Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig, who was stricken with the illness in the late 1930s. The disease destroys specific nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that send signals to the muscles to make them work. Without these signals, muscles cannot function and shrivel.
The first sign that something was wrong came in 2004 when Reynolds lost use of his hand while playing basketball.
In January 2005, just three months after the Reynoldses married, doctors confirmed the diagnosis that the couple already feared from researching Reynolds' symptoms. Doctors said he would soon need feeding and breathing tubes and that he may only have 24 months to live.
At first Reynolds deteriorated, frequently falling over as he lost control of his leg muscles. But he improved dramatically after taking part in a drug trial in Ohio. The couple also spent 21 days in China, where Reynolds received a stem-cell treatment through a spinal tap.
Two years after doctors said he may only have 24 months left to live, Reynolds is planning to help coach football in the spring and eagerly awaits Monday when his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes take on the University of Florida Gators for the national college football championship.
"He's not on a breathing machine; he doesn't have a feeding tube," Michelle Reynolds said. "He can stand up if you hold him."
But coping with the the debilitating disease is not easy. Reynolds uses a wheelchair and has limited use of his hands.
His speech has become slurred and mumbled; his wife must translate for others. With loving patience, she listens and asks her husband to repeat words and phrases that she can't make out. She spoils him often with her homemade chocolate milkshakes.
As well as looking after her husband, Michelle Reynolds works two jobs and looks after their four children, who range from age 9 to 16.
The couple have been moved by the help they have received.
Lark, the former nurse, trained Reynolds' 16-year-old twin sons Kobie and Kelbie to give their father the deep muscle injections he needs.
Thanks to the cooperation of her main employer, a Bradenton insurance company, Michelle Reynolds has been given time off to take her husband to see doctors and specialists.
Every day, Betty Washington, Reynolds' mother-in-law, stops by to look after Reynolds. On her way there, she picks up food prepared by Linda Burgess, the owner of The Big L restaurant in Ellenton.
"Miss Linda makes him a big pot of chili and bean soup," Michelle Reynolds said. "We didn't ask them; she just wouldn't charge him anymore."
Creative use of gadgets has also made the couple's life easier. Reynolds can type e-mails to his wife and friends by pointing and clicking a mouse on a keyboard displayed on a computer screen.
Both the Reynoldses have a tiny mobile phone clipped to their ear. If he is in distress, Reynolds can dial his wife by pressing his phone against his shoulder.
The system came to his rescue when he recently slipped out of his chair while his mother-in-law was upstairs.
The Reynolds' home also has small cameras mounted to the walls. They broadcast live to a Web site, allowing Michelle to check on her husband when she is at work.
But as much as he appreciates all the help, Reynolds said, it is difficult to accept that he must now rely on others.
"The hard thing for me was I was always a doer and now having to ask bothers me more than anything," he said.