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ALS commercial featuring Victoria residents airs during World Series

By KBell
Oct. 24, 2011 at 5:24 a.m.

In his small home office made larger by bright yellow wall paint, Bill Hassel scrolled through an inbox flooded with the same email subject: "Nolan Ryan video."

Monday afternoon, with a mischievous grin on his face, Hassel said he had written about 150 Fox television affiliates using the laptop attached with Velcro to his mechanical wheelchair.

The former pastor, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, was asking each station in the country to air during the World Series a 60-second public service announcement to raise money for the disease - often called Lou Gehrig's Disease, after the famous baseball player who died from it.

"I don't know why I got this disease, what God has in mind," Hassel said, his voice faded from the disease. "But I'm sitting here with time, and these crazy ideas, they come. And I'm on a mission and ministry for ALS."

The commercial features a message from Nolan Ryan, followed by footage of Hassel and Victoria residents Carolyn Shimek, who has ALS, and Craig Fox, who died in August from the disease. Viewers can send a text message reading, "ENDALS" to 20222 to donate $10 to ALS research.

Hassel said he came up with the idea of airing a PSA after seeing a commercial featuring Michelle Obama urging viewers to send a text message to raise money for Haiti.

Nolan Ryan would become his celebrity clout, and the rest of the footage would come from former Advocate intern Drew Stewart, who produced a documentary called "Breadth of Hope" about the three Victoria families.

"I was ready to go right away. I said, 'He's Pastor Bill. Whatever you need, Pastor Bill, I'll do it,'" Stewart said.

After a friend of a friend hooked Hassel up with Ryan, and after Stewart produced the commercial spot, Hassel tackled the job of convincing television stations to give up 60 seconds of air space during the World Series for his cause.

"I'm never afraid to ask. I have gotten help all over the world," Hassel said.

He got plenty of rejection letters from station managers who said they just couldn't fit in the piece. But in particular, Jeff Pryor, who's the general manager of Victoria's Fox affiliate helped Hassel navigate the television world and agreed to air the commercial on the area station.

So far, Hassel has confirmed stations in Abilene, San Angelo, Boston and New Orleans also agreed to pick up the PSA to air before or during the World Series.

"If there is one thing that Bill is not short on, that's initiative. He really came up with this idea from the start," said Robert Goldstein, vice president of communications with ALS Therapy Development Institute, where the research money will go.

ALS TDI wrote letters of support to back up Hassel. Goldstein said that, for a disease like ALS, any little bit of exposure helps.

He quoted Stanley Appel, a doctor specializing in ALS research, who said, "ALS is not an incurable disease. It's an under-funded one."

"It's not like this is an impossible project. It's actually something that all of us in the field believe can be done," Goldstein said. "If more funding came to the disease, we'd be able to translate some emerging knowledge about ALS into therapeutic drugs."

That was just the plan Hassel conceived in his yellow office.

By Monday, he still had to send out emails to about 25 more stations before he had reached every Fox affiliate in the United States. Then there's NBC, CBS, he said, trailing off into laughter.

"I know I can't walk, but my mind's still here, and I have the time to bug (them)," he said.

Hassel stopped grinning long enough to slowly move a cup of water to his lips.

"Life is good," he said, sipping.



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