Local ALS patient seeks community support

Bailey Adcock

Fundraising efforts have begun to help Statesboro resident Nancy Hillis, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS or Lou Gherig’s disease, is a neurologically degenerative disease that slowly takes over a patient’s body and makes it almost impossible for them to care for themselves.

According to the ALS Association, approximately 6,400 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year, with military veterans being approximately twice as likely to develop the disease.

Before her diagnosis, Hillis was an entertainer. She was a singer and an actress and the host of a bed and breakfast in Savannah, which was also the backdrop to the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

“She was so active in life before. She hosted weddings and had a national pageant title out of Las Vegas. She’s also a big Georgia Southern fan,” Sandra McLeod, close friend of Hillis and resident of Brunswick, said.

Hillis began to see signs of the disease in 2011 when her left foot started to randomly give out. While she battled various illnesses afterwards, doctors decided to test for ALS.

“The paralysis of the disease has now reached to about her midriff and she is on oxygen 24/7,” McLeod said.

Friends still describe Hillis as a fighter, but she has to receive daily care to help with her symptoms.

The cost of the care adds up, according to McLeod, and most of the money is coming out of Hillis’s pockets.

Eagle Health and Rehabilitation Center, where she is currently staying, allows for Hillis to leave whenever she wants, whether it is to go see her two sons or visit the doctor’s office. However, they only have access to ambulances for transportation, costing Hillis about $1600 whenever she wants to use them.

Eager to help regain some of Hillis’s freedom, McLeod has spearheaded a fundraiser through a website called “Red Basket”.

“Red Basket is different from other fundraising sites because we don’t charge fees,” RaeAnn Knoell, communications specialist for Red Basket, said.

Red Basket is financially supported by an insurance company out of Nebraska called Woodman Life, who handles all expenses that are normally paid for with fees by most fundraising websites.

Because of the support from Woodman Life, every cent of the donations is guaranteed to go straight toward Hillis.

“Most other fundraising sites are self-publishing so there’s not verification. Here at Red Basket, we call to verify that there is a financial need,” Knoell said.

McLeod has set the monetary goal at $5,000. As of January 16, they have only raised $805.

The paralysis, having reached her midriff, has forced Hillis into getting around via scooter. This has led to a need for a vehicle with scooter access.

“We were hoping we might be able to purchase a used vehicle but we haven’t had the response we thought we would. I’d love to be able to give her a little bit of joy in the time she has left,” McLeod said.

ALS is a disease that many know about because of the Ice Bucket Challenge or Stephen Hawking. Some students know it, though, because it is close to home.

“My great grandmother had it. My mother may have it and my kids may have it,” Cassie Warthen, freshman vocal performance major, said. “It effects more people than you think.”

To make a donation, please visit redbasket.org/741/freedom-for-nancy.

Photo courtesy of Brandon Warnock.