A local woman who has spent her life helping people recently benefitted from the generosity of others.
Charlie Dawson, of Washougal, is a volunteer battalion chief and a first responder with the Camas-Washougal Fire Department.
Her husband, Bob, was officially diagnosed with ALS — also known as ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease’ — by a neurologist in October 2013.
Earlier that year, he noticed he had no energy when he was getting his fishing equipment. Bob’s family doctor diagnosed him with ALS after she noticed him pushing himself up from a chair in February 2013.
“It was doctor after doctor all summer long until Dr. Sax, a nerve doctor, gave us the final diagnosis,” Charlie said. “Everything had to be ruled out, since it can mimic other illness.”
According to the ALS Association, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost.
Bob is no longer able to walk, and he has sold his boat.
Members of the Washougal Volunteer Firefighters Association and East Clark Professional Fire Fighters Local 2444 coordinated the installation of a ramp at the front of the Dawson’s house, to improve accessibility for Bob.
“I could not thank them enough,” Bob said. “I could not get out of the house.”
Charlie has served as a local volunteer firefighter for more than 23 years.
“They shocked us,” Charlie said, regarding the addition of a ramp. “It was really nice.”
The funds were raised at the annual Turkey Carnival, in November.
“Charlie has done a lot for the department and for this community,” said Jordan Boldt, president of the Washougal Volunteer Firefighters Association and a volunteer lieutenant. “She has rallied volunteers and firefighters for other community projects.
“Charlie is always the last person to think of herself,” he added. “She always puts others above her.”
She has provided fire station tours for students, and she has taught CPR classes.
“It’s time we serve her,” Boldt said. “It was appropriate we take care of her and Bob. It’s not a question that she’d be doing the same thing if it were someone else.”
The ramp, which cost more than $1,000, was installed in February.
A railing will be added to the ramp.
“All the [firefighters’] families are members [of the fire department],” said Camas-Washougal Firefighter Joe Scheer.
Jake Grindy is vice president of the Washougal Volunteer Firefighters Association and a volunteer lieutenant with the C-W Fire Department.
“This is what the volunteer association is about — giving back to the community,” he said.
Couple adjusts to life’s changes
Because of the ALS, Bob relies on Charlie to dress and feed him.
“She’s an amazing woman,” Bob said.
“I am swallowing my pride and my dignity,” he added.
Bob started using a cane, then a walker. Now he uses a wheelchair.
The Dawsons will celebrate their 24th anniversary this month. They have two sons, one daughter and six grandchildren.
Bob and Charlie attend monthly meetings with others affected by ALS.
“I’m lucky,” Bob said. “I’m 70. A kid [in the group], 36, has it, and there are people younger than that.”
During one of the ALS group meetings, the Dawson’s daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter brought a birthday cake for Bob.
“I still have more living to do,” Bob said.
Other members of the support group include a former police officer who is not able to talk and communicates via a computer.
“You see you’re not alone,” Charlie said. “It’s tough. You see the future.
“There are guys worse off,” she added. “You see what’s coming.”
Lance Christian, executive director of the Oregon and Southwest Washington chapter of the ALS Association, and Services Coordinator Rachelle Preston have provided information at the Dawson’s home.
“It was hard to hear, but good that you knew what was coming,” Charlie said.
She also appreciated that the visit occurred at home.
Christian said there are approximately 50 people with ALS in Southwest Washington.
“We exist to support families living with ALS while we search for a cure,” he said. “As part of that, we strive to meet every family and walk alongside them and their journey with ALS.
“Bob and Charlie are just remarkable people that are affected by this disease,” Christian added. “This is a club that you don’t want to be a member of, but it has the best people in it. They are perfect examples of that.”
Christian said some of the more common symptoms of ALS are weakness in extremities, foot drop, muscle wasting and changes in speech and swallowing.
According to the ALS Association, the disease tends to strike people between the ages of 40 and 70. As many as 30,000 Americans have ALS at any given time.
The Dawsons have learned two out of three people with ALS are veterans.
“They don’t know why,” Charlie said.
Bob served in the Air Force for four years. He then worked at the paper mill in Camas for 18 years and at BBA Nonwovens for 20 years. Bob’s other jobs have been at GI Joe’s and Sportsman’s Warehouse.
“If he was not working, he was fishing,” Charlie said.
For more information about ALS, visit www.alsa.org, contact Christian at (503) 238-5559, Ext. 101 or firstname.lastname@example.org.