Joe Umosella Jr. first learned about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, because of the charities his company supported.
Umosella founded Universal Supply Co. in his hometown of Hammonton in 1965, and it always supported various causes, including the ALS Association.
Then, a little more than a year ago, Umosella found out that he had ALS.
“It was a surprise. It was a real surprise,” the 71-year-old said. “When they gave me the verdict, it kind of rang home.”
This year, Universal Supply’s employees, vendors, customers and friends are leading the way with donations for Walk to Defeat ALS in Ocean City, which takes place Saturday morning at 10 a.m.
Team “Joe U’s Crew” set a goal to raise $60,000, and they should reach it by the time their approximately 300 walkers begin the two-mile walk at the 6th Street athletic complex.
“We’ve really gotten a great response,” said Umosella’s son, Jeff, who is now president of the company.
The Walk to Defeat ALS is the ALS Association’s signature national event and it gathers more than 150,000 people for about 170 events around the country every year. It raised more than $18.5 million last year for ALS research and to help support victims of the disease.
The Greater Philadelphia Chapter organizes the Ocean City event, which alone raised nearly $200,000 last year and almost $2 million in the 10 years since it began.
Besides trying to find a cure, the money pays for the things ALS patients need as the neuromuscular disease kills their nerve cells and eventually cuts off control of their muscles.
The association says that when people donate $40 it can purchase two hours of in-home care. A $150 donation can pay for a lightweight wheelchair. A $700 contribution could pay for a chair lift.
There is currently no effective treatment or cure for ALS, and there is also no definitive cause. The average survival time after diagnosis is just more than three years.
Legendary New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig died in 1941 at age 37, two years after his diagnosis with ALS. Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has lived with ALS for 50 years, which is a very rare case, and he is now almost completely paralyzed.
Joe Umosella had been losing weight for months prior to his diagnosis, and he was constantly being tested to figure out why.
“You kind of back in to the diagnosis,” said Jeff Umosella. “You start ruling out other things.”
Joe currently has trouble breathing, and is becoming more dependent on a wheelchair.
“I’m getting along all right,” he said. “I’m just limited in how far I can walk.”
Today, he’ll have more than 1,500 people walking for him.
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