MORGANTOWN – No one likes imagining they’ll ever be in a position where it becomes necessary to rely on friends and neighbors for financial help.
But when Buckhannon native Seth Poling and his wife, Erika Helmick Poling, found themselves in need and asked for assistance, they never dreamed the response from friends and neighbors – and even people they didn’t know – would be so generous.
More than a year after Seth was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease – the couple knew planning for their future and the accommodations Seth may one day require was crucial.
Seth, who will turn 32 years old Oct. 3, is the son of Holt and Mary Alice Poling of Buckhannon and the brother of Brittany Alden. He graduated from Buckhannon-Upshur High School in 2005 and has lived in Morgantown for the last 8-and-a-half years. He and Erika have been married for two years and are the proud parents of Liam Seth Poling, who is five months old.
When Erika recently set up a GoFundMe account to raise money to build a first-floor ADA-accessible bedroom and bathroom in their current home, the Polings were astounded by how quickly the money poured in and how generous people were. In just five short days following the creation of a GoFundMe, $13,500 was raised to help their family address the need for the new addition.
Seth made a post on Facebook following the outpouring of support thanking people for their generosity.
“The amount of love and support my family and I have received over the past few days has been nothing short of a miracle,” he wrote. “I can’t begin to thank each and every one of you who took the time to share this post over 900 times, let alone those who donated and shared such loving and supportive encouragement. My wife and I are flabbergasted at the amazing response of love and support for our cause. Anyone that knows us knows that we aren’t the type of people who ask for help.”
“It is very overwhelming,” Erika told My Buckhannon, reflecting on the response.
“Erika and I are so surprised by the response,” Seth added. “When someone recommended we set up a GoFundMe, we just looked at one another. We have never done anything like that, and we didn’t even know what to put down. We did not imagine we would receive the support we have already received. We never expected the outpouring we received in financial support, prayers, shares of the site and responses from people.
“What makes it even more incredible is we received support from a lot of people we don’t even know,” Erika added. “It has been shared so many times that both of us have had people contact us via Facebook that also have ALS or have had people in their families that had ALS. Two people contacted me just tonight who would like to form a support group for people with ALS.”
Seth received the diagnosis in June 2017 during a visit to Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. He said he had been dealing with symptoms for more than four years before the diagnosis.
“I literally had a higher chance of getting struck by lightning than being diagnosed with ALS,” he said. “Most people had not heard much about ALS before the last few years with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on social media.”
Seth explained they hope to use funds generated through the GoFundMe to add the addition onto the back of their home, building out from the family room.
Although he’s still able to do most things, the burden and stresses of living with ALS are starting to become real to him. He said his future may very well include the use of a wheelchair or a powered wheelchair. The estimate for the proposed project to construct the ADA-accessible bedroom and bathroom is between $50,000 and $60,000. As of Thursday, the GoFundMe had raised $14,450.
“At the moment all of our bedrooms and bathrooms are upstairs,” Seth said. “Moving into another home with ADA-accessible first floor bedrooms and bathrooms would be very difficult and expensive, and we have come to love the area we live in. We will need to make sure I can get in and out of the garage as well. At the moment, I am mobile and able to get around and go places. We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.”
Prior to setting up the GoFundMe account, the couple had exploring funding options through numerous sources, but, as Seth explained in a recent Facebook post, most money is reserved for purchasing medical equipment, which he doesn’t need right now.
“We have reached out to numerous organizations about assistance to individuals living with ALS, but unfortunately, I don’t meet their criteria,” he wrote. “Either I’m too young, old, make too much or too little.”
Erika said Seth is taking treatments for his ALS, but said as of today, unfortunately, there is no known cure. He receives treatment at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown and Johns Hopkins Medical Center. She said currently there are only two medicines that help slow the progress of ALS.
“We have tried not to let Seth’s diagnosis affect our lives,” she said. “It does affect our lives, but we have not let it stop us from doing the things we wanted to do. We wanted to have a family, so we are having our family. We still try to do as much as we can, and we do not let ALS hold us back as much as possible. Seth was a very positive person going into it and while it is not a fun diagnosis, emotionally he handles the disease with a very positive outlook.”
“I’m big on not throwing a pity party,” Seth said. “That is how I go about it. There are a lot of people way worse than I am.”
Erika said their journey has been long and hard and said they hate to have to ask others to help.
“Seth has had this diagnosis for more than a year and this is the first time we have put it on social media,” she said. “We were not hiding his diagnosis – we just didn’t want people to treat us differently. Now it is getting a little harder because the further along we are, the easier it is for people to know something is going on with him.”
Erika said said she’s always known her husband’s contagious love of life, sports and all things West Virginia is what has drawn people to him throughout his life. His unwavering positive outlook is also one of his hallmark characteristics.
“Seth is a good person,” she said. “He would give anyone the shirt off his back, so I know everyone loves Seth. When I first met him, I knew everyone liked him. I knew he would get a lot of support emotionally.”
Seth said he plans to face each day just like the previous day.
“I will continue to stay positive and upbeat because I do not believe this is the end, but the beginning of something special. I have ALS, but ALS does not have me. As 2 Corinthians 4:16 says, ‘Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.’”
Want to help? A benefit Baked Steak Dinner is slated to raise funds for Seth from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Buckhannon. Anyone willing to volunteer to help with the event, make donations of auction items or purchase tickets should contact Mary Alice Poling by calling 304-472-5632 or online at firstname.lastname@example.org.