Flood Volunteer with ALS

by Bill Norman on Fri, 2009-06-26 11:17

Iowan with ALS receives governor’s award for volunteer work tearing down flood-damaged houses

Six or seven days a week, eight or nine hours a day, Steve Thomas is a home wrecker.

Far from being a destroyer, Thomas, 62, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is part of an important restoration process that he calls “gutting and mucking.”

Thomas is one of hundreds of volunteers helping to tear down thousands of Cedar Rapids homes ravaged by raging floodwaters last year, displacing more than 20,000 people. Volunteers tear down walls and rip up floors so the debris can be hauled off and the homes rebuilt.

Steve Thomas
Steve Thomas will keep tearing down flooded homes as long as ALS allows.

Thomas’ dogged daily dedication is particularly impressive because in September 2008, shortly before he began helping to strip flood-damaged homes, he received a diagnosis of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Although beginning to feel the effects of the disease, he still is able to volunteer, and on June 19th was honored by Iowa Governor Chester Culver with an Iowa Commission of Volunteer Service award for his service.

‘Keep trying’

For nearly 40 years, Thomas was a physical therapist.

“I’ve always wanted to help and serve people. Working with them, whether they were physically or mentally challenged, taught me that you have to keep going on … making the best of every day,” he says. “Now I’m trying to help heal people [whose homes were damaged] because if you don’t keep trying, nothing gets done.”

In the audience when Thomas received his award were half a dozen cheering members of his MDA ALS support group. At the group’s previous meeting he had casually mentioned he was going to receive the award and asked if he should mention publicly that he has ALS (he displays few outward symptoms of the disease at this point).

Fellow ALS support group members enthusiastically encouraged him to do so, both because they’re proud of him and because his service provides a good opportunity to focus attention on ALS and the need to find a cure.

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