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Classmate sparks funding effort for ALS patient

Staff writer

Jason Allison is fighting a battle he cannot win. Diagnosed this past fall with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the 42-year-old Florence native who currently resides in Gwinner, North Dakota, will die from the disease, barring a miracle of medical science.

As he and his family grapple with a staggering reality, a former classmate is trying to improve that reality through online fundraising efforts.

“Wheels For Jason” is the name of the campaign started by fellow Class of 1990 Marion High School graduate Chad Freeborn. The project’s goal is to raise enough money to purchase a wheelchair-accessible van through which Jason can continue to travel with his family.

“I’ve got all the stuff to raise money, I know where to get it done,” he said. “I saw a post from a classmate and it mentioned wanting to do a fundraiser; I just took the idea and ran with it.”

Freeborn, who currently lives in Phenix City, Alabama, said he’s only spoken with Jason once in the 25 years since they graduated, at the 2010 Old Settlers’ Day 20-year reunion, but remembers Jason from high school, when they worked together in a tree nursery and were “pretty good friends.”

“To me it ain’t no big deal,” he said. “Someone needs help, something needs to get organized. There’s no need for gratitude or nothing, I’m just trying to make something happen.”

In a local effort, the Florence and Aulne Methodist churches will be having a soup supper fundraiser to benefit Jason’s family from 5 to 7 p.m. March 1 at the Florence Methodist Church.

Leslie and Linda Allison of Florence, Jason’s parents, attend Florence Methodist, and pray every day for a miracle — that their son will somehow survive.

ALS was the focus of the definitive viral craze of 2014, the ice-bucket challenge. Participants made videos showing them pouring buckets of ice water on themselves, and challenging others to either donate to the ALS Association or make a similar video.

The campaign raised millions for ALS research, and Leslie and Linda said they did find the timing of it all to be strange.

The ALS Association has been a great help to Jason and his family, they said, providing him with a wheelchair and other implements to help, such as a hoist for if Jason falls down by himself and needs help up.

“We were hoping there might be even experimental treatments he can take,” Leslie Allison said. “That’s one reason fundraising’s become important.”

Jason played football at MHS, and went to college on a football scholarship. He played center.

After a few semesters in school, he figured he didn’t know what he wanted to do, so he dropped out. He worked as a construction worker on a highway crew for a year or so, before a friend convinced him to move to North Dakota.

“He moved up there, and he really liked it, and he’s lived there ever since,” Linda Allison said.

He met his wife, Angie, at the Bobcat Co. in North Dakota where he worked until he had to quit when doctors deemed him a fall hazard. He and Angie have adopted two sons, Grant, 6, and Luke, who turns 1 in April. Jason and Angie adopted Luke last April, and a couple weeks afterward, Leslie and Linda visited to meet their grandchild for the first time.

At that time, Jason was having a strange tingling sensation in his feet.

“He was having this tingling in his feet and thought it was kind of strange,” Linda Allison said. “But he’d been sick, and was on his feet on concrete all day for his job, and you know, you just think, ‘Ah it’s just his feet because he’s on concrete all day. What do you expect? Your feet will do that.’

“He didn’t think too much about it. I didn’t think too much about it, anyway.”

Jason’s symptoms grew more substantial, as he basically became more clumsy around the house. He would fall down while playing with Grant in the front yard. After his sisters, Raquel and VanDee, visited in July, they told their parents something was really wrong with him.

After seeing a doctor that month, Jason had to quit holding Luke, for fear that he might fall and injure the baby.

Alternatives to ALS were ruled out over the following months, and Jason was diagnosed with “probable ALS” in September before receiving the official diagnosis in early October.

For Leslie and Linda Allison, the feeling is surreal.

“My brain keeps saying, ‘you’ve got to deal with it,’ and my heart keeps saying, ‘I don’t even want to admit it’s happening,’” Linda Allison said. “So it’s kind of a fight in me to even be honest with myself about it.”

“Six months from now we’re gonna be up there and we’re gonna be dealing with it,” Leslie said. “It’ll be real.”

In addition to $50,000 for the vehicle, Jason’s home needs an addition of about $30,000 in order for him to have access to more than the kitchen, living room, and bathroom.

The project currently sits just above 20 percent of its $50,000 goal. Even if the goal isn’t reached, Leslie and Linda Allison said the support they’ve received from the community has been amazing.

“Our friends have been super,” Linda Allison said. “Family’s been super.”

For now, though, Jason’s parents said they do a lot of praying and a lot of crying. And whatever money can be raised to help out Jason, they said, is a blessing.

Last modified Feb. 26, 2015

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