BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The game of love for Jimmy and Karen etches itself on the backdrop of billiards.
“We were on the same pool team in the same pool league. We were friends before we were in a relationship with each other,” Karen said.
And you could say friendship is their foundation for perseverance.
“Every 90 minutes, somebody is diagnosed with ALS,” Karen said.
Their defining moment arrived nearly four years ago, when so much was already changing.
“My step-brother passed away in January unexpectedly, my step-mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and then Jimmy was diagnosed with ALS and then in November of that year my dad passed away,” Karen said.
Through the nervous system, ALS weakens muscles and impacts physical function. Once it progresses, it can impact speech, eating and breathing. Jimmy’s lung capacity today is at 30%. He cannot lift his arms, or speak.
Some families are destroyed by this diagnosis but not these two. For them it was Vegas baby!
“In August is when we went to Las Vegas and we got married at one of those little chapels with Elvis,” Jimmy said.
Nicole Baker: “What was that day like for you, Jimmy?”
He said it was the best day of his life.
In the shadows of even their best day, “In sickness and in health,” was now more than a vow.
“When you’re first diagnosed with an illness that’s not curable you don’t know what the future holds and it was just really an emotional time for us. And the Brigance Brigade Foundation was there for us,” Karen said.
Equip, Encourage and Empower- those are the pillars of the Brigance Brigade Foundation, helping those living with ALS.
Former Ravens linebacker OJ Brigance started the non-profit in 2008, a year after his diagnosis- to tackle its challenges and advocate for others.
It was a personal email to the couple from OJ that changed everything.
“Soon after, we received an email from OJ and it was so touching and moving. He said that sometimes in life you don’t get to choose your assignment, you know it’s chosen for you,” Karen said.
Brigance Brigade grants made it possible for Karen to pay a full-time caregiver. But the financial burden is tremendous with thousands of dollars in monthly expenses covered by insurance.
“I feel like there needs to be more resources for that,” Karen said.
ALS stole Jimmy’s independence, but not his spirit. For Karen, it’s a heartbreaking transition to witness.
“The most difficult thing is watching somebody that you love who was active, still be the same person inside but not able to physically do things like they used to do,” she said.
Weathering it all, they work as a team. Karen, quarterbacking their challenges with unconditional love and grace. Jimmy, signaling the plays driving them closer toward victory and peace.
“He brings a smile to everybody’s face that meets him. He puts out motivational messages on social media. His motto is power and spirit,” Karen said.
The power to overcome and the spirit to shine on others. Karen, tucked away in the depths of time, tallies each day as a win.
Nicole Baker: “How do the Ravens inspire you to fight every day?”
Jimmy, speaking through a computer: “Not every day you will feel your best physically or mentally. But if you channel your inner power and spirit, you can win the day,” he said.
Their shot-clock never runs down. With each moment, they are present, never looking too far ahead.
“He can’t lift his arm, he can’t write, but he wrote me a seven page love story of our love life on his computer using only his eyes,” Karen said.
It turns out that billiard love ballad is teaching all of the power of being unbreakable.
“Sometimes you get a bad break. But you don’t give up. You know you play each shot. Sometimes you get a good roll, sometimes you get a bad roll but it’s just that determination,” Karen said.