"What does Hope mean? It all starts and ends with faith. Without faith how can you have hope? And without hope, how can you live your life?” – Jim Eutizzi, 2012
A simple, four letter word. A word that, simply, can mean so much.
The dictionary says that hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”
Hope is looking forward to something. Hope keeps us going.
But what happens when it becomes seemingly impossible to hope anymore? When the odds become so stacked against us, when things get so dark and so bleak, that hope just seems fruitless?
It’s in those moments that our lives are defined.
And that’s where Jim Eutizzi comes in.
It was 2007. One minute, Jim was a healthy hockey-playing husband and dad of four wonderful children. The next, he felt a cramp in his hand at the gym. Which never went away. Which got worse. Which when first evaluated had no diagnosis, no answers.
|Jim Eutizzi courtesy of ALS Association Wisconsin Chapter
Until that fateful day at the Mayo Clinic when Jim Eutizzi was told he had ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
At that moment, Jim’s life became defined. In a way that he never imagined. And the challenge to continue to embrace hope was on.
ALS, if you’re not familiar with it, just might be the worst disease any human could ever face. There is no cure. There is no way out. Everything starts to shut down, except your mind that is, which stays as sharp as it always was. The net effect is that you are a prisoner in your own body. The only lingering question is how long it will take.
So you would assume that for Jim, as the impact of the diagnosis set in, it was time to fold up his tent, give up hope and wait for the inevitable conclusion.
You would have been very wrong.
Jim, his wife Susan and his family, who live in Waukesha, started by creating something for their household they call "the new normal," defining their new life dealing with Jim as an ALS patient. (You can hear Jim talk about it in the video below.)
Jim decided he was going to face this adversity head on, and he was going to show his family, his friends and the world how you fight back. And has he ever.
In the last few years, Jim has been all over raising awareness for ALS research. He’s made TV and radio appearances, written a blog, spoken at high schools and grade schools throughout Wisconsin and helped create Chasin’ A Cure, the annual July tailgate at Miller Park promoting ALS awareness.
In December, Jim received the Lawrence A Rand Prize, awarded by the National ALS Association’s National Office recognizing the courage, passion, integrity and commitment of those serving the ALS community.
“Jim Eutizzi embodies the true spirit of the Rand Prize,” says Kimberly Maginnis, Chief Care Services Officer of the National ALS Association. “He has lived with Lou Gehrig’s Disease for six years, yet he remains dedicated to spreading awareness and enriching the lives of others with ALS.”
Two years ago, in the midst of his fight with this horrific disease, Jim was the guest of honor and featured speaker at the ALS Wisconsin Chapter’s annual fundraiser called, appropriately, the Evening of Hope. Jim wowed the crowd that night with his wit, his charm, his genuine nature, and most of all his faith, a belief that what’s happened to him has a purpose, a hope that he can take advantage of the opportunity to help turn the tables on this silent killer.
I was there that night in March 2012, got to meet Jim and talk a little bit about hockey. I was blown away. I’m hoping to talk with him again this Saturday at the Evening of Hope’s 21st renewal at the Hyatt Regency.
The event is sold out again; the earliest sell out on record since it began in 1993. A testament to awareness being raised by all the dedicated people involved.
But you can still help, by going to the ALS Wisconsin Chapter’s web site and donating, here. It’s hard to think of a better cause than the fight against ALS.
Jim will continue the fight. His determination is infectious.
Brad Hicks, the FOX6 Milwaukee news anchor whose brother is battling ALS and who has been instrumental in the success of local chapter events, knows Jim well. “Once in a while – once in a great while – you meet someone about whom you can say, ‘My life is better for the meeting.’ That’s how I feel about Jim Eutizzi. That’s how many people feel about Jim.”
Jim’s wife Susan said that they were blessed that the disease was advancing slowly. And that’s certainly good for everyone who knows Jim, and everyone who is helping fight ALS. Susan is a realist of course. “Long term, there will be wheelchairs, feeding tubes…” But they don’t think about that now. All they care about is trying to continue to make a difference.
Jim is amazingly optimistic: “I feel 100 percent sure that they will solve this puzzle. I just hope its sooner than later.”
That’s Jim’s goal. And he’s going to keep fighting, keep hoping, as long as he’s able.
“To get knocked down, [you have to] get up and find the pearls that are still out there, they’re there no matter what you’re facing, I truly believe that.”
Jim Eutizzi. Always looking for the pearls. The personification of hope.