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ALS/PLS benefit raises research funding and spirits

Curt O’Hagan is fond of remarking that seven years after his diagnosis of primary lateral sclerosis (PLS), a degenerative motor neuron disease similar to the fasterprogressing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), he is still a pest to his friends and family.

And they’re thrilled about it. To honor O’Hagan, they generously support Curt’s Classic, a golf event sponsored by Crystal Lake Golf Club in Lakeville to benefit PLS/ALS research at the University of Minnesota.

O’Hagan’s PLS diagnosis, which followed his career as a longtime salesman for The Dow Chemical Company, did not come easily. After a series of inconclusive EMG scans, MRIs, and blood tests, he sought treatment from Gareth Parry, M.D., a neurologist who practices at the University’s ALS/PLS clinic, one of the largest in the country.

“He diagnosed my PLS when nobody else could,” O’Hagan says. The disease has greatly affected his speech, balance, and movement, and he now gets around with a walker or on an electric scooter for longer distances. But O’Hagan’s wit and sense of humor remain untouched, and he puts them on display at Curt’s Classic during a dinnertime speech that he writes and his sister delivers.

The origins of the golf benefit go back to a dog walk in 2007 when Gwen O’Hagan, Curt’s wife, found herself asking God where he was in the midst of Curt’s challenges. The next day, the manager of Crystal Lake Golf Club, where Curt and Gwen had both worked for years, said he wanted to organize a fundraiser in Curt’s honor.

Within 45 days, the Crystal Lake staff and the O’Hagans put together an event that raised $12,200 and attracted 119 golfers and 200 attendees at the dinner and silent auction later that evening. In 2008 the event grew even larger and raised $15,600. The third annual event took place October 6 and raised an estimated $16,000.

The owners of the course donate golf time and facilities and staff plans the event, leaving all the proceeds for ALS and PLS research and treatment at the University.

“We’re hoping to establish an endowment for pilot research studies that will lead to larger funding for pivotal research,” Parry says. “We want to better understand the pathophysiology of the diseases and discover new treatments.”

Curt O’Hagan’s weekly routine now includes exercise, muscle stretching, appointments with a personal fitness trainer and chiropractor, and massage sessions. But the golf event creates a special energy.

“The feeling at the golf course is exciting, like the most wonderful Christmas you’ve ever had,” Gwen O’Hagan says. “People return every year to reconnect, and the atmosphere is very upbeat and fun.”

So in addition to needed funding, Curt’s Classic has also raised the spirits of the person it honors. “We feel lucky for our friends, our family, and the activities that surround us,” Gwen says.

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