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Doctor triumphs from the tragedy of ALS by sharing his tale



In Sutherland's case, he began with an amplifier and speaker to raise the volume of his fading voice. For awhile, he could operate a computer using a finger on a tracking ball and later a lateral joy stick. But more recently, he has had to rely on his eyes, something that is actually preferable to the more difficult way that Hawking conversed.

Kim Carey, Sutherland's occupational therapist for the past decade, says Sutherland has been inspirational with his dedication to press on and hone his eye-gaze communication skill. He is able to write 15 words per minute.

The technology also connects to a speech-generating device that allows him to take part in real-time conversations. He uses it to operate software on his computer and surf the internet.


"He is definitely one of our higher-end users," says Carey.

"We provide the tools, but he has to do the work. He has embraced this disease all along and has been very, very strong and demonstrated incredible resilience."

The clinic at the Ron Joyce Children's Health Center on Wellington Street has a caseload of more than 600 people with neurological, developmental and other disabilities. About 10 per cent of the patients have ALS.

Carey says the fact that Sutherland was able to produce a book using technology meant for short snippets of conversation is amazing.

"To me, it is a message of hope and it is a message strength and resilience. It shows how much the human spirit can endure, and how you can take something that is not how you planned it and still be active and a contributing member of society in a large way, "she says.

For his part, Sutherland says, "The writing process is certainly difficult, with my eyes. Fortunately, I have patience, and the time, to sit still with my thoughts and reflect on many of the experiences in my life."

Sutherland writes: "When a negative change occurs, we have to choose how we will face it. We can be paralyzed with fear or we can make the choice to integrate it into our lives, make peace with it, and eventually grow from it. With any change, good or bad, personal growth is the ideal outcome. It is my belief that this our soul's mission on Earth. "

And ALS was not the only challenge for him and his wife, Darlene. Interwoven with his physical struggle, was the mental anguish of grieving for the couple's eldest son, Zach, and his girlfriend, Kaya Firth, who died three years ago in a kayaking accident on the Credit River.

"I wrote initially as a way to express my grief," he says. "After a year of writing, I looked at my writing and thought that my journey could help others. This writing, together with previous writing – that I wrote for my family – about my ALS journey formed the initial 350-page manuscript."

In September 2018, Sutherland began working with editor Ken Whyte to form a "book out of this manuscript" to make it "for public consumption."

A book launch is scheduled for Saturday, 2 to 4 p.m. at the Halton Hills Public Library, 9 Church St., in Georgetown. RSVP is publicity@sutherlandhouebooks.com.

mmcneil@thespec.com

905-526-4687 | @Markatthespec

mmcneil@thespec.com

905-526-4687 | @Markatthespec


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