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A show of kindness for Mr. K

A show of kindness for Mr. K

Compassionate Care ALS

FORESTDALE — 08/12/14 — Jane Kittredge reads “Star Nights” from Hal Borland’s “Twelve Moons of the Year,” to her husband, Wally, who has ALS.Christine Hochkeppel/Cape Cod

By George Brennan, August 14, 2014

SANDWICH – For Wally Kittredge, known by hundreds of former Forestdale School students as Mr. K, the Ice Bucket Challenge sweeping the nation is personal.

“It’s great. I’m so glad it’s bringing more awareness to ALS,” Kittredge said Wednesday from the hospital bed at his Forestdale home. “It’s wonderful to think that people still care about me and think about me.”

Kittredge, 61, was forced to leave his job as a science teacher after the 2010-11 school year after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Though his initial diagnosis was on Feb. 15, 2011, he finished out the year without telling his students or his son, J.T., a college freshman at the time.

That fall, his wife, Jane Kittredge, also a seventh-grade teacher at the school, told his former students that Mr. K wouldn’t be back and about his diagnosis.

“They were devastated,” Jane Kittredge said. “They took us under their wing as a community service project.”

Those students, now juniors at Sandwich High School, have mowed the grass, cleaned cars and helped raise money to help with family expenses.

“I miss them so much,” Wally Kittredge said.

On Friday night, Mr. K’s former students, colleagues and everyone else who wants to dunk themselves in an icy bath of cold water is being invited to Forestdale School to take the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS. Participants are asked to bring their own buckets, their own ice, their own water and a donation for Compassionate Care ALS in Falmouth, an organization that’s helped Kittredge and his family navigate the debilitating disease.

“It’s for an exceptional man,” said Karen Sabetta, a Sandwich teacher who was teamed with Kittredge and his wife at Forestdale.

Sabetta helped organize Friday’s event along with colleagues Michael Lehane and Julie Santoni. “He is just such a likable guy, students loved being in his class. He made science fun and accessible for them.”

The disease has taken an emotional, physical and financial toll on the Kittredge family. Wally Kittredge is confined to his bed and is on a ventilator, though, unlike some ALS patients, he is still able to speak.
“I’m trapped,” he said. “You don’t realize all that you take for granted.”

He requires constant and costly care through a combination of caretakers that include his wife; his son; his brother, Bruce; and private nurses. Even some neighbors have learned how to use the suction to clear his airway.

He knows the toll it takes on those who provide his care.

“They take the brunt of this. I got the disease. I know where I’m going,” he said. “In the end, I know I’m going to die. The caretaker takes the brunt of the work and anxiety.”

Because he’s a retired teacher, Kittredge isn’t eligible for Social Security disability and his pension is for only 13 of the more than 30 years he has taught. He worked for 13 years in Sandwich, but prior to that was a teacher at a private school in Pennsylvania.

“I have to keep teaching or we’d lose the house,” said Jane Kittredge, who also works a summer job to stay afloat.

There are many things that insurance either doesn’t cover or only partially covers, she said. And it’s not always pleasant dealing with the providers.

“I had one of them tell me, `He’s just maintenance care. He’s just going to die anyway,’” she said. “I said, `Aren’t we all?’”

It’s the kindness of family members, friends and colleagues that keep Jane Kittredge going.

“When you see things people are willing to do, we’re lucky to be part of a wonderful community,” she said.

The Ice Bucket Challenge, launched into the viral universe by Peter Frates, has taken social media by storm and, in the process, has raised $4 million for ALS-related charities, according to published reports.

“It’s just phenomenal,” Jane Kittredge said.

Family and friends from across the country have been sending her husband a deluge of videos dedicating their ice bucket challenges to “Mr. K.”

On Friday, Sabetta is hoping more people are willing to get wet in honor of her friend and former colleague. “Even if you’ve already done the ice bucket challenge, come and do it again,” she said.

Wally Kittredge is hoping to be at Friday’s event to see for himself and perhaps get wet.

“The only thing I’m worried about is my chair might become an electric chair,” he said, showing the wit that his family and friends say was a hallmark of his teaching style. “I might do a cup of water or something, maybe a cup of ice.”

Follow George Brennan on Twitter: @gpb227