United States

Meet RSM Pursue Your Passion Winner: Mary Clare Kaiser

ARTICLE

It all started with a slight cramp in my Uncle James’ hand. Simple tasks like sending a text message and buttoning a shirt became bothersome, as James’ fingers randomly tightened up against his control. Soon his speech began to slur uncontrollably. Typically agile and well-spoken, my Aunt Nan and Uncle James knew something wasn’t right, and that a visit to the doctor was in order. James was familiar with the dozens of scans and tests that came next, as he had just overcome colon cancer in 2016. Visiting doctors and receiving tests and treatments had become part of everyday life for him and Nan, who supported him every step of the way.

James was diagnosed with ALS in August 2017. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. A person with ALS has an average life expectancy of two to five years from the time of diagnosis. ALS starts as muscle weakness or stiffness, and progresses to the paralysis of the muscles in your arms, legs and trunk, as well as those that control speaking, swallowing and breathing. One year after surviving colon cancer, James was given a death sentence that has shocked and devastated his family and friends.

Nan is a truly wonderful woman who extends joyful charity to all she meets. She’s a working mom of three and caretaker to my elderly grandmother, who lives with her and James. For the past several decades, Nan has donated blood weekly and volunteered regularly at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, her church and Meals on Wheels. Before supporting her husband through cancer, she even donated her own kidney to a dying acquaintance! I wasn't exaggerating; my aunt is amazing! 

When tragedy hits someone you love it’s human nature to want to do whatever you can to help. The Pursue Your Passion Program is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to do just that – to help improve the quality of life for my uncle and to help ease the pain of a dying spouse for my aunt.

For James, I will provide him with a speech-generating device – a life-sustaining piece of technology that will allow him to be independent and productive throughout the majority of his remaining days. This SGD is a small computer tablet that attaches to a wheelchair. James can use this device to send messages in spoken form and in an email, text or chat. He’ll also be able to use the same SGD to pay bills, make legacy videos for his children and grandchildren, and call for help. This SGD device also includes eye-gaze technology, which allows him to type by moving his eyes.

For Nan, my dream would be to gift her precious time with her husband before he passes. While money can’t buy time, it can buy her services that will replace time-consuming burdens of everyday life: housekeeping, lawn-mowing, household maintenance and repairs and meals on the especially demanding days. With the additional PTO days included in the Pursue Your Passion program, I’ll step-in as my grandmother’s caretaker, and escort her to her appointments, errands and outings. Nan is like a second mother to my sisters and me; she’s been there for every birthday, graduation, wedding and life event. She’s given herself to others her entire life, and she is so deserving of this gift. 

Nan and James have been fortunate to be in San Antonio, where the Texas Chapter of the ALS Association is active and strong. The ALS Association has already provided so much hope and support for my family, and I have a passion for seeing this organization thrive. Every year, the association puts on the “Walk to Beat ALS” to raise funds for local care services. Through Pursue Your Passion, I’ll organize and lead Team RSM to walk and raise money for the fight against ALS. 

I want to thank RSM for the Pursue Your Passion program. I feel extremely fortunate and grateful to be part of the RSM Family, where our people take care of each other and our communities.