MILLER PLACE, N.Y. (AP) — Christopher Pendergast, a suburban New York instructor who turned a dreaded Lou Gehrig’s illness prognosis right into a decades-long marketing campaign to boost consciousness and fund analysis, died from the sickness on Wednesday. He was 71.
Pendergast was the driving power behind the ALS Ride for Life, an annual wheelchair trip throughout Long Island that has raised greater than $10 million for analysis, affected person and caregiver providers, and schooling in regards to the neurodegenerative illness, formally often called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Pendergast’s household confirmed his loss of life. He had been on dwelling hospice take care of a number of days and was surrounded by family members in his closing moments. The illness took his capability to talk about a 12 months in the past, however his thoughts remained sharp and he communicated by means of a watch gaze pc.
“Our dad, despite all odds, lived life just how he wanted,” the household stated in a press release.
The information of Pendergast’s loss of life unfold shortly on social media, eliciting tributes and remembrances from former college students, colleagues and individuals who have been touched by his efforts. A funeral mass will probably be celebrated Monday in his hometown, Miller Place. It will even be streamed on-line.
“He’s a hero to all of us,” stated Ray Manzoni, a buddy who serves because the chairman of the ALS Ride for Life group.
“Mr. P just had an air about him that he was going to fight this to the end,” stated Don Strasser, a chemistry instructor in Northport, the place Pendergast taught elementary faculty and remained a fixture at ALS fundraisers and sophistication actions. “He gave so many people hope. … He’s done that, time and time again for so many patients.”
Pendergast led the primary ALS Ride for Life in 1998, 5 years after his prognosis. It was an formidable, 15-day journey to Washington, D.C., that began at Yankee Stadium within the Bronx, the place baseball legend Lou Gehrig known as himself “the luckiest man on the face of the Earth” after his personal ALS prognosis in 1939.
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The route moved nearer to dwelling in subsequent years, with Pendergast in his motorized wheelchair main a small group of ALS sufferers from Montauk, on the japanese tip of Long Island, to New York City, some 118 miles away. The two-week trek every spring drew immense neighborhood assist. Local police offered escorts, folks rode alongside on bicycles or joined on foot, and onlookers would typically step into the road at hand over spare change.
The money the trip raised has funded a wide range of ALS-related applications, together with the Christopher Pendergast ALS Center of Excellence. The heart, opened at Long Island’s Stony Brook University greater than a decade in the past, gives a stage of diagnostic and remedy providers that had been beforehand solely obtainable in New York City.
Pendergast and his spouse, Christine, chronicled their experiences as affected person, caregiver and advocates in a current guide, “Blink Spoken Here: Tales From A Journey To Within.”
Pendergast, who retired from instructing in 2003, returned to varsities ceaselessly to supply an inspirational message of perseverance within the face of adversity. He final visited with Northport High School college students in February, simply earlier than the coronavirus compelled the closure of faculties and companies and the cancellation of occasions, together with May’s version of the Ride for Life.
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From the beginning, Pendergast noticed his prognosis as a calling to assist others. In 1997, as ALS ate away at his capability to stroll, he marched exterior the Food and Drug Administration’s workplaces in Washington, urgent for approval of an unproven however probably useful remedy.
“One day I’m going to be chained to that door,” Pendergast advised The Associated Press on the time. “It’s the politics of power, and we have been powerless for too long.”
In 2005, after one other Northport instructor revealed his ALS prognosis, college students had been impressed to start out their very own fundraising occasion, an annual gala dubbed “Midwinter Night’s Dream.” The occasion, the brainchild of one in every of Pendergast’s elementary faculty science college students, attracted movie star company akin to “The Sopranos” star Edie Falco and pitcher David Cone.
Pendergast shared recommendation with college students from his personal charitable experiences and was a celebrated visitor at annually’s gala. But, Strasser stated, he was additionally cautious to not take the highlight from David Deutsch, the opposite Northport instructor battling ALS. Deutsch died in 2012 and the final gala was held in 2014.
“There’s no doubt that being involved actively in fighting the disease in this form is life-lengthening,” Pendergast stated on the first occasion. “We can’t undergo chemotherapy or invasive types of surgical procedures to allow us to fight back against the disease, so we have a choice of laying down and doing nothing and allowing the disease to steamroll right over us, or to fight back with spirit and get involved… That is our only medicine.”
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