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“My Father is My Hero” Says Son of Fallen Firefighter James Santella

BROOKSVILLE – Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, according to www.als.org. Over half of those diagnosed with the disease only survive between 3 to 5 years and although there are some experimental drugs available, there is still no known cure.

Local firefighter, James Santella, lost his battle with ALS three years ago, after being diagnosed 18-months prior to his death. For some, like Santella, the disease progresses at a very fast pace, disabling motor function and eventually causing the person to stop breathing.

Family, friends, and fellow firefighters were so devastated by James passing, that they decided to pull together and raise awareness to this catastrophic illness.

Two years ago the James Santella Foundation was established to help raise ALS awareness and ensure that James legacy would never be forgotten. Organizers held the first annual James Santella Memorial Golf Tournament, last year, which raised enough money to help a local family, whose loved one was diagnosed with ALS. This year the event was held on February 28th at the Hernando Oaks Golf Course and despite the cold rainy weather, hundreds of guests and sponsors attended to show their support.

James’ twin sister Donna, says “I’m in awe over the number of people who turned out and showed their support today.” James’ sister Michelle remembered his love of the outdoors and how he would hunt and fish anytime he had an opportunity.

As we found shelter from the rain under an awning, I asked James’s wife, Kim, what she most remembered about James; she said, “I miss his personality the most… He was an amazing father to our son Conner. I also loved his passion for firefighting.”

Earlier, I met with young Conner standing next to a collage of photographs he chose for an event banner. Understandably intimidated with a large camera focused on him, Conner simply pointed at his father and said “My father is my hero.”

James’ mother, Jeanne Moore showed me a card Conner drew at school after the event, thanking everyone one for their support; it read, “Thank you for coming to the foundation. Thank your for golfing for my Dad. Thank you for fighting for ALS for my Dad.”

The foundation hopes to help two families this year and even more when after the third annual James Santella Memorial Golf Tournament next year. In addition, organizers have established a scholarship to help those interested in a career in firefighting.

Follow this link if you would like to donate to the James Santella Foundation

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