Chance meeting in Massena leads Clarkson prof to help woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease
Sunday, April 7, 2013 - 6:09 pm

A chance meeting at a McDonald’s put a Clarkson University professor in a position to help out a woman from Massena suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Clarkson University Prof. Charles Robinson, the Herman L. Schulman Endowed chair in Rehabilitation Engineering and the founding director of Clarkson’s Center for Rehabilitation Engineering, Science and Technology, lost his wife to Lou Gehrig’s Disease in 2008 after a two-and-a-half-year struggle.

So when Becky Sieradski, diagnosed with ALS in April 2012, and a friend were talking not long ago at a restaurant and struck up a conversation with Robinson, who was seated nearby, the chance connection put Sieradski, who knew almost nothing about ALS when she was diagnosed, together with Robinson, who had come to know quite a bit about the disease.

Robinson had seen her wheelchair at the restaurant, and “When I heard ALS, I knew I could help,” said Robinson, now a member of the board of directors at the ALS Association Upstate New York Chapter, located in Syracuse.

“I spoke with Becky about her needs and then began making phone calls to those who could help” her navigate her way through the devastating and ultimately fatal neuromuscular disease.

Robinson called a friend, Potsdam architect Brooks Washburn, who agreed to sketch a wheelchair ramp for her house, and he called the ALS Association chapter to determine if a power wheelchair was available from the equipment loan program.

Donations from friends bought the lumber for the ramp, and friends and members from the Massena Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses provided the brawn. The ramp at the house’s entrance was built in one week, allowing Sieradski to leave her home in her newly loaned power wheelchair.

“I’ve had so many compliments on the ramp,” she said.

“People are amazed at how sturdy it is. Thank you to everyone for your help,” she said.