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Local woman knows all too well about the ravages of ALS after losing her husband to dreaded disease
More than eight years after losing her husband to Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Dr. Maria Gonzalez still makes a generous annual donation to the ALS Society of British Columbia.
June is ALS Awareness Month across Canada.
Gonzalez lost her husband of 17 years, Fidel Ibanez, in early March of 2006.
Happily remarried for four years, Gonzalez, a local denturist, still finds is “very difficult” to talk about her late first husband, who is the father of her teenage daughter Natalia, 15.
“I make it a point to donate to the ALS Society as they were so very good to Fidel and our family when he was first diagnosed,” she said. “He had to be moved to Vancouver for treatment and they were amazing with all of their support.”
To this day, there is no known cause of ALS and no known cure and the only way for that to change is for research to continue and that’s why donations are needed and necessary, said Gonzalez.
“It would be my biggest wish in this world to find the cause and a cure for this terrible disease,” she said.
Gonzalez, who followed in her father Eusebio’s footsteps into the dentistry industry, was married for 17 years to Ibanez.
She met him while he was vacationing in Osoyoos from the northern coast of Spain, where Gonzalez’s family was originally from.
Everything seemed to be fine with his health until he started complaining of fatigue in the fall of 2005.
“He began to not be able to help me out with the business and we knew something was wrong and that he was going to have to get a check up,” she said.
Knowing this could be something very serious, he planned a trip back to Spain in the fall of 2005, but when he returned, his health had deteriorated even more, she said.
After seeing specialists, including a neurologist, it was confirmed that he had been diagnosed with ALS.
“That was probably the worst thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life,” said Gonzalez, holding back tears. “I remember hearing the news and just falling apart because I knew the gravity of it, but Fidel didn’t seem to grasp the full extent of what the doctors were telling us.
“I had to walk out of the room and then I think he realized just how bad this really was. I didn’t know much about ALS, but when it was explained to me that it was fatal, it was just so hard to deal with.”
Her husband was initially told he could live between two and three years.
He died less than six months later.
“The only thing I remember being happy about is that he didn’t have to go through worse with this disease,” she said. “Both of his legs had quit working and he had lost some of his speech, but ALS will eventually stop your lungs from working and you can’t breath properly and thankfully he didn’t have to go through all of that.”
A spiritual woman, Gonzalez said she has “no doubt whatsoever” that Ibanez is in a better place.
“When he got really sick, he got home from the hospital and I had got his bed ready for him,” she said. “He went that morning. I thought he was coming home, but it was a different home he went to.
“He was a very special man and I still think of him a lot.”
Her daughter has nothing but fond memories of her father, she said.
As with all tragic deaths, you go through a grieving process, but realize you must carry on and that’s what she has done, said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez met an Albertan named Denis Richer and they have been happily married for four years.
“You don’t think so at the time, but you must carry on with life,” she said. “I have great memories of Fidel that I will carry with me forever and I’m very thankful for that.”