Debilitating disease doesn't stop this family's Christmas
By ERICA RODRIGUEZ - ERODRIGUEZ@VICAD.COM
Dec. 24, 2009 at 6:24 a.m.
Updated March 7, 2010 at 9:08 p.m.
The gifts are purchased and the relatives are on the way. But Craig Fox won't unwrap Christmas presents this year.
This year, he even struggles to shop for his family.
"I can't get anything off the shelf," the 41-year-old Victoria father said. "I have to kind of point, throw a shoulder into something - the item they want. I can't wrap nothing."
Fox was diagnosed in 2008 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a motor neuron disease also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The disease affects nerves in the brain and the spinal cord, and he can barely move his arms.
"I was fine before I got ALS. Last Christmas I was OK," he said. "With ALS, my neck goes out."
Doctors typically give ALS sufferers between three and five years to live, Fox said. This is his second Christmas living with the diagnosis. There is no known cure.
"That's a tired ALS Santa," he said, laughing at a recent photo of him sleeping in a recliner and wearing a Santa hat.
Fox stands more than six feet tall. He is a former Victoria High School football player. Today, his body slouches. He lost almost complete use of his arms, but he still has feeling in them. His shoulders, once broad and solid, are limp under the weight of his arms.
Although he has full function of his lower body, he continues to lose strength. Three hours of recent holiday shopping wore him out.
"He wears out after really an hour," Peggy Fox, Craig Fox's mother, said. "His neck gets tired. I still can't hardly keep up with him when he's walking, though. It's just that the upper part of the body is giving way on him. He told me next year he's just going to e-mail Santa so he won't have to do all the shopping."
Fox sat at his parents' kitchen table. He watched his mother wrap his children's Christmas presents. His arms hung at his sides, lifeless.
Last month, Fox and his two children - Bailey, 11, and Tanner 15 - moved into his parents' home so the entire family can help with his care. This is their first Christmas living together.
The parents' garage was converted into his living area. It's complete with a bathroom and dining area.
"It almost feels like I am going back to my old place in a roundabout way," Fox said. "Ya know, let Dad watch his old movies on whatever channel that is. Everyone that's on the screen or behind the screen has probably passed away. At least I can go and watch up-to-date TV."
As the family settles in, each grapples with adjusting to new roles.
"I'm sure it's hard on them," Fox said, referring to his parents. "Now they have a teenager and a pre-teen in their house who they're helping."
The front door clicked and Bailey, Fox's 11-year-old daughter, sneaked in. Surprised, Fox and his mother hid a stack of DVDs.
"Why was the door locked?" Bailey asked. Fox and his mother grinned.
In many ways, this Christmas is like others for the Fox family. Traditions still include trash, a salty snack, oyster stuffing and talk of Santa.
"I always told my kids if you don't believe you don't receive, so they pretend a lot," Fox said.
After the death of Fox's wife in November 2005, Tanner, Fox's 15-year-old son, helped with Christmas shopping. The teen even chose his own gifts.
"Tanner last year used to be Santa and now he can't be," Fox said jokingly. "So I'm pulling a fast one on him."
Later, Bailey admitted she doesn't believe any longer in Santa. "Santa Claus doesn't come to our house to me," she said.
Because no known ALS treatment exists, Fox confronts each holiday as it comes.
"As far as even next year, I don't even know if I'll be able to go to the stores," Fox said. "It's hard to pick out gifts for your kids through someone else. You wanna pick for yourself, see it yourself. I did OK this year. I'm just worried about next year."
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