Jimmy taught us much in ALS battle

Published 1:16 am Saturday, February 16, 2013

I didn’t know Jimmy Blanton well, but like many people in Andalusia, I learned a lot from him about living these past few years.

Jimmy had ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. As the nerve cells waste away, they can no longer send messages to muscles, which weaken.

Jimmy had symptoms for six years, but it was only about three years ago that the diagnosis was confirmed.

At The Star-News, we’ve learned about how Jimmy fought back from his daughter, Jill Prevett, whose stories made our mouths drop open.

Jimmy’s legs began to get weak first. But that didn’t stop him from heading to the woods or to the boat. After he began to use a motorized wheelchair to move about, he’d still take his van and go out to the hunting land. On more than one occasion, Jill went to rescue him after dark because he’d gotten his chair or his van stuck.

After a lifetime in business, primarily insulation, he’d no doubt had to improvise a time or two, because he kept on improvising so he could keep on doing the things he loved.

When he could no longer hold fishing rods, he was still going deep sea fishing with his friends. He’s had them use hoists and all manner of devices to get him on and off the boat. When they dropped him once, his attitude didn’t change. He still was busy with the business of living.

When all of the family gathered at the Blantons’ house for Thanksgiving a few years ago, I found them in the backyard, where Jimmy was having wheelchair races with his grandsons. What an adventure!

He must have been really, really good to his friends before his health began to erode, because his friends were really, really good in return. Ward Taylor was a champion, taking him deep sea fishing when he probably shouldn’t have been going. His family said they knew that with Ward he’d be safe.

When Jimmy could no longer go outdoors, Kenny Shiver, who lost a brother to ALS, came and put a bird feeder outside of Jimmy’s window so that he could see some of the outdoors he loved so much. When his neck muscles atrophied and his head turned the other way, his wife, Patricia, an amazing trooper in her own right, installed a mirror so he could still see the birds.

Near the end, outdoor television shows, the reflection of birds, and an audio Bible were what he enjoyed. Those who knew him before his illness would have predicted that he’d be a bad patient. But he never once complained, never felt sorry for himself, and he never, ever, ever gave up.

Jimmy quietly left this life on Monday night, but what a legacy he left. The best any of us could hope is that we’d also live and die so well.