‘The dude won’t quit’

Longtime friends still hunting together years fter ALS diagnosis

Photo courtesy of Becky Teasdale The end of a successful 2016 mule deer hunt finds Darryl Powell (left) and Matt Teasdale posing alongside the special tripod built to supports Matt’s blackpowder rifle.



As any long-time friends do, there always is a bit of give-and-take when Darryl Powell and Matt Teasdale go hunting. It’s all in fun but it’s serious fun at the same time.



QUICKREAD

When 26-year Air Force veteran Matt Teasdale was diagnosed in 2013 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), he, like most newly diagnosed ALS patients, was confounded.

“I didn’t know what (the doctor) was talking about and then he said, ‘Did you ever hear about Lou Gehrig’s disease?’ ” Teasdale said. “I knew some baseball player had got sick and he explained to me what was going to happen.”

Gehrig, the Hall of Fame first baseman for the New York Yankees, died of ALS in 1939.

ALS, according to the ALS Association, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. That degeneration eventually causes the brain to lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement.

First written about by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot in 1869, little headway has been made in treatment, according to the ALS Association.

The prognosis is the same as it was nearly 150 years ago: “death in an average of two to five years.”

The association said ALS usually strikes people between the ages of 40 and 70, with approximately 15 new cases diagnosed each day.

An estimated 20,000 Americans can have the disease at any given time.

Between 5-percent and 10-percent of ALS cases are hereditary; the rest occur for unknown reasons.

For as-yet unknown reasons, military veterans — war or peace — are 60-percent more likely to get ALS than the general population. The ALSA also said smoking, being male, white and older than 60 are the most closely associated risk factors for the general population.

Beyond that, studies are contradictory or unclear, especially when it comes to the military connection.

Dr. Richard Bedlack of Duke University, the doctor who diagnosed Teasdale, is among the leaders in ALS research and in 2015 offered a research paper about some alternative therapies including special diets, nutritional supplements, cannabis, acupuncture, chelation, and energy healing.

Teasdale and his wife, Becky, know their future is clouded. Even so, neither is ready to give up.

“My wife Becky and I had spent the last five years building our dream home on Lake Gaston, N.C., with visions of large family get-togethers and grandchildren fishing off the dock,” wrote Matt on the ALSA website’s veterans page. “Now we are planning on how I will get in and out of bed and living each day hoping for a cure.”

“We’re living day-to-day,” Becky said during the post-hunt celebration at the home of long-time friend and Grand Junction taxidermist Darryl Powell. “You go through these different stages and if you’re lucky you reach the point where you can say ‘I can do this, I can keep going on with my life.’”

For information about ALS: http://www.ALSA.org.



The spoiler version of Matt and Darryl’s 2016 Colorado hunting trip goes like this:

Darryl spots deer, Matt shoots deer, time to celebrate.

That, however, is just the large print in the ongoing story of two long-time friends and their outdoor adventures.

The fact that Air Force veteran Matt Teasdale of Lake Gaston, N.C., this fall bagged his second blackpowder Colorado mule deer in three years is interesting enough, as is his ability matching the boundless optimism voiced by hunting buddy and Grand Junction taxidermist Darryl Powell.

For Teasdale to do this while strapped to a wheelchair and facing an uncertain future kicks it up several notches.

These two, buddies since attending Bethel High School in Hampton, Virginia (class of 1976), have shared many exploits, from deer hunting to fishing on Lake Gaston and Teasdale’s first Colorado mule in 2014 after those many years of going oh-fer.

But nothing prepared them for their latest adventure.

Some preamble.

Powell hunts with Teasdale for several reasons, but especially because “He’s about the only guy I know who can keep up with me,” Powell said.

Then, things changed in 2013.

“We had about 18 inches of snow and he had been a bit slow, so I sent him out on his own,” Powell recalled. “But when I got back to camp, he was already there.”

Teasdale admitted he hadn’t made it very far.

“I just couldn’t get my feet to feel right,” Teasdale said. “I kept tripping and falling down – I fell like seven times that week — and I’d have to crawl to a tree and pull myself up.”

Thinking it was a weak ankle, Teasdale, 55, went home to Lake Gaston and called the Durham (N.C.) VA medical center.

On Jan. 22, 2014, after three weeks of prodding and poking, Teasdale met Dr. Richard Bedlack, professor of neurology at Duke University and one of the world’s experts in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research, doing his monthly round at the VA hospital.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Mr. Teasdale, I can tell you exactly what’s wrong, you have ALS,’ ” Matt remembered. “I didn’t know what he was talking about and then he said, ‘Did you ever hear about Lou Gehrig’s disease?’”

That was the only appointment that his wife Becky had not attended.

“After I gave her the news, she was crying more because she didn’t go with me,” Matt said. Once they told their family, Teasdale called Powell.

“I didn’t know anything about ALS and told him to take care of himself and not worry about coming out to hunt,” Powell said. “But then he started asking about the (license application) dates.”

In October, 2014, Teasdale, using a special off-road wheelchair, shot his first mule deer, a decent 4x3, on land near Collbran owned by Ron and Judy Galloway.

Teasdale showed up again in 2015 and saw plenty of deer, but had only a cow elk tag.

“I didn’t know what ALS meant or Lou Gehrig’s disease and there’s no family history of it,” Teasdale remembers. “Becky had been reading about it but I remember him (Bedlack) saying life expectancy is two to five years.”

This year, Matt, Becky, and Matt’s brother, Miles, showed up with a motorized all-terrain wheelchair, a tripod to support the rifle and a camouflaged portable blind.

The first night, our hunters went bumping along with Matt in his chair inside the blind, Miles carrying the tripod and Powell half lifting, half pushing the blind.

“You ever see the Three Stooges movie where they’re moving haystacks?” Teasdale laughed. “That’s what it was like.”

That night, after the hunters leave, a wind carried the unattended blind to, well, Kansas was one guess.

“When we walked out into the field Tuesday, it’s like, ‘Where’s the blind?’ It was gone,” Teasdale said.

That second night, Teasdale’s 500-pound motorized wheelchair hit an irrigation ditch and tipped over with him strapped in it.

Miles freed Matt from the chair, but by now they were 10 yards from the chair.

“No way they could pick me up and drag me, so I suggested they roll me, like a hot dog,” Matt said. “It took about a dozen rolls, I figure, but they finally got me to the chair.”

The third night everything worked and Powell got Teasdale to within 80-plus yards of an apparently unconcerned 5x5 buck lying in some tall grass.

“Remember I’m sitting down and can only see the buck’s antlers,” Teasdale said. “Three horses walk between us and the deer and once the horses leave, the deer stands up.”

He shot, and Miles scoffed. “You missed.”

“Nah, be patient, you hit him,” counseled Powell, watching through binoculars. “He’ll go down, he just doesn’t know it yet.”

But Teasdale wasn’t sure and took a shot with his second rifle.

This time, the deer took two steps and fell over.

“Darryl walks up to the buck and finds two holes, about 4 inches apart, right behind the shoulder,” Matt said, justifiably proud of his marksmanship.

The usual post-hunt party at Powell’s tricked-out man-cave had Teasdale regaling listeners about the hunt, next year’s possibilities and talking openly about his disease.

He wasn’t ready to admit this was his final trip out West.

“I’m 2 ½ years (into his diagnosis) and I plan to keep coming out as long as I can,” he said, grinning.

Powell’s grin was just as big.

“He’s already talking about next year’s license deadline,” Powell said. “The dude won’t quit.”


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