Fr. Benjamin Reese, in residence at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Kenosha, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2013, will head to India to undergo experimental treatment at the end of November.
He shared an update about his fight against the progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, with the parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Therese in the Nov. 2 bulletin, stating he is getting to the “now or never point for participation in trials.”
“After much prayer, study, and consultation with different doctors, family, friends, parishioners, priests and especially my spiritual director, I have decided to participate in the ALS stem trial in Pune, India,” he wrote, asking parishioners to pray to the Venerable Pius XII for a successful treatment.
“This was a big decision because it is not free like the trial at Mayo and it is a long way from here. However, they use Mesenchymal stem cells, derived from bone marrow like Mayo and Israel and these have been effective in many cases,” he wrote of the $40,000 program.
Fr. Reese uses an iPad to communicate, because his ability to communicate is affected by what is known as bulbar onset ALS, a form that affects the part of the brain that controls speech and swallowing, and prevents him from offering Mass alone and hearing confessions.
How to help
To donate money to help Fr. Reese cover his medical expenses, mail checks, made payable to Fr. Ben Reese to the rectory:
Fr. Dwight Campbell, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Therese of Lisieux parishes, told the Catholic Herald in a phone interview Wednesday, that Fr. Reese had a feeding tube put in and a tracheotomy over the summer, because he could no longer eat or swallow.
According to Fr. Campbell, Fr. Reese doesn’t qualify for similar programs in the United States because he’s on a feeding tube and because of the type of ALS he has.
“There’s going to be a need for him to do this soon, because his condition just continues to worsen. That’s the nature of the disease,” Fr. Campbell said.
Fr. Campbell organized a benefit featuring hors d’oeuvres and raffles, for Fr. Reese on All Saints Day, Nov. 1, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, to help pay for medical bills. Fr. Reese’s family paid for half of the program cost, so the benefit was to help pay the other half.
Fr. Campbell said the benefit had a great turn out and raised slightly more than $40,000.
“Now, maybe he can reimburse his family, because of the generous response to the fundraiser,” he said.
In a note from Fr. Reese, published in the Nov. 16 bulletins, he said he had “never “experienced such an outpouring of love and affection.”
“I have been a priest for a long time and have known and loved many good parishioners, but that party of our two parishes was really a taste of heaven with some living saints (not me for sure),” he wrote. “When I opened each card or letter, I said a prayer for that person and their family. I also have offered a Mass of thanksgiving for all my benefactors.”
He said he planned to write a personal thank-you note to each person, with the help of a volunteer because ALS makes it impossible to do it alone.
“The main thing is to thank each one of you from the bottom of my heart for helping me get this therapy that may save my life, even if it is not a total cure.”
He will use remaining money to buy plane tickets for himself and his required medical attendants, and asked for prayers that they get their visas soon.
“When I return, if I am better, my recovery will require lots of physical, occupational, and, please God, speech therapy. Medicare does not pay for this so I will use the funds for that,” he wrote. “If I do not improve, I will take physical therapy for as long as it is helpful.”
Fr. Reese said any additional donations will benefit the St. Pio Foundation, a nonprofit charity organization dedicated to the promotion of the spiritual charism of St. Pio, approved by the Vatican and sponsored by Cardinal Raymond L. Burke. It’s a charity helping the sick and poor that Fr. Reese has supported for years.
But Fr. Reese said in his note he’s expecting some improvement.
“So, please pray to the Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Pio, St. Therese, St. Gemma, and, of course, Ven. Pius XII for my healing!” he wrote. “In a special way, I am praying to St. Anthony for the healing of my speech so that I offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, grant absolution, and anoint the sick and the dying.
However, whatever happens will be for the greatest glory of God and so, once again, I thank you and offer my daily prayers and sufferings for you!”