The Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst was founded in 2008 by Brad McGarry. Since then, he has served diligently as the program’s director, seeing AIM grow from a mere 7 students to 77 and from being the only staff member to be one of 7 faculty members. However, McGarry is going through a big fight, and the students and staff at Mercyhurst have rallied together to support him.
In mid-May, McGarry was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This is a condition that attacks nerve cells, reducing functionality in muscles and progressively weakening the body. Those who have ALS lose the ability to use their body, rendering them unable to walk or write, and then they progressively get weaker, relying on technology to eat or even speak. Sadly, this disease always leads to death. This incurable condition has seen those such as theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg fight through. To help McGarry and his family be as comfortable as possible, AIM Student Support Coordinators Amanda Mulder and Liana Hicks teamed up to create a GoFundMe to go towards medical costs and other assistance.
Brad has good days and bad days as he battles ALS,” said Hicks. “On good days, he can use his arms and walk some. On bad days he often needs to rest, and his body does not cooperate with what he wants to do. For example, there are times when he needs his head propped because his neck muscles do not want to hold up his head that day.”
McGarry has been going through his condition for several months now, but it has taken its toll. At the beginning of his diagnosis, he lost the ability to use one of his arms but has since been rendered unable to use either of his arms, relying on talk-to-text technology to send texts or emails and assistive technology to help him eat. Additionally, he is losing strength and function in his legs. On better days, McGarry can do a shuffle-like walk with the assistance of a walking stick, but on bad days, he relies on a wheelchair to get around.
McGarry has had a profound impact on the Mercyhurst community and autism communities nationally and internationally. He has testified before Congress and has attended conferences all over the world to raise awareness for autism support. He has also raised awareness for Angelman syndrome, a condition that affects the nervous system. “He has dedicated his life to helping others and continues to do so every day,” said Hicks. “Personally, Brad inspires me every time I am around him. He has an amazing gift to reach others like no one else can. He uplifts the people around him and brings so much joy to everyone he knows and meets. Not to mention, he is so fun to be around. We want to see Brad enjoy the rest of his time he has on this earth because he truly deserves it.”
As of this writing, the GoFundMe fundraiser has raised over $20k out of a $100k goal. If you want to donate and/or share to help McGarry, you can scan the QR code to access the GoFundMe. McGarry has done so much for the Mercyhurst community, so it’s about time that we return the favor.