Elanco rallies around former chief with ALS
'He's always been there for us, and now we want to be there for him.' By Carole J. Deck, Correspondent
Ed Sprecher knows life isn't always fair. But the former New Holland police chief believes in facing adversity with faith and fortitude.
Diagnosed in August 2011 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, Sprecher deals with the debilitating illness in the same way he served as a law enforcement officer.
"Ed's handling his illness with character, something not many people could do," said friend Jack Buch, former Earl Township supervisor chairman and road master.
Candy, Sprecher's wife of 31 years, agreed that her husband's heartening attitude and humor have been a blessing.
"His first symptoms started with slurred speech and tongue fasciculation [twitching] in late January 2010," Candy Sprecher said. Difficulty swallowing, chewing and fatigue soon followed, and by July 2011 he had lost his ability to speak.
He was well-known as a prolific and humorous tale-teller; the loss of voice was a difficult blow. Thanks to advanced technology, Sprecher was able to communicate by texting and using an LCD writing tablet.
"All my life I was a people person who liked to talk and joke. I do miss telling my crazy stories," Sprecher wrote, adding his signature smile.
Susan Walsh, nurse coordinator for the ALS Association, Greater Philadelphia Chapter, at the ALS Clinic at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center's Department of Neurology, explained that "ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease, affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The disease progresses with weakness, wasting and paralysis of muscles and eventually affects ability to control muscles needed to move speak, eat and breathe.''
The Hershey clinic diagnosed Sprecher.
"It was a blessing and a curse. We were glad to finally have a diagnosis, but sad to learn it was ALS," Candy Sprecher said.
As news spread about his illness, people around the county showed love and support for the former chief.
After retiring from the police department in 2003 after 34 years, 11 as chief, he was employed as head of security at Elanco School District. Already a familiar figure as police chief, he quickly earned the respect and affection of students with his common sense and caring that helped defuse potential problems.
"He built relationships with students, yet was always vigilant about protecting all of us," Elanco Superintendent Robert Hollister said.
Carol Kelso, former Garden Spot High School principal, said Sprecher continued to provide wise counsel to parents and students while struggling with the disease.
When he retired at the end of the 2012 school year, the graduating class recognized him and donated funds to the ALS Association in his honor. "He's always been there for us, and now we want to be there for him," said Courtney Olson, class president. "We love you, Mr. Sprecher.''
"It was encouraging to see during a visit that Ed's faith is very strong and he's uplifted by his family,'' said longtime friend state Rep. Gordon Denlinger. "Whatever challenges he continues to face, he will always be a hero to those of us who know and love him."
Magisterial District Judge Rodney Hartman describes Sprecher as a caring guardian of the community.
"Everyone knew Ed's famous line, 'Call me if you need me,' was sincere,'' Hartman said. "He was always available to protect the citizens he served, other police officers and the school students, anytime, anywhere."
Sprecher, 64, receives care and clinical management every three months at Hershey.
The ALS Association, a nonprofit organization, supports patients with the disease. Candy Sprecher said the association has been vital in helping the couple handle the disease. Insurance pays for some care, but most comes from fundraising and donations.
Hospice of Lancaster County has begun providing help with daily living. Sprecher uses a feeding tube to supplement his nutrition and wears a leg brace for support.
His days are spent reading the newspaper and the Bible, watching TV and visiting with friends. Spending time with daughters Leslie Allgyer and Michelle Weaver and grandchildren Quinn, 4, and Addison, 1, brings indescribable joy.
"Friends, family and the community have been so supportive and caring,'' Candy Sprecher said. "I can never thank them enough.''
For New Holland police Lt. Jonathan Heisse, whom Sprecher always said was like a son, making sense of Sprecher's suffering is difficult.
"It hurts to watch someone who's spent their life helping people and being available 24 hours a day unable to enjoy his retirement,'' Heisse said. "Maybe people can learn from Ed to be thankful for each day, remembering how he dealt with his disease.''n