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Jeff Lester, who is receiving two master's degrees May 1, hopes to raise awareness for the disease that has immobilized him.
Jeff Lester, who is receiving
two master's degrees May 1, hopes
to  raise awareness for the disease
that has immobilized him.
News-Leader file photo, 2011

Written by Didi Tang from News-Leader

When Jeff Lester of Lebanon launched a campaign to get to graduation in Dearborn, Mich., he thought it was going to be a long shot.

The 44-year-old was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease 18 years ago; he is now a quadriplegic and relies on a ventilator to breathe.

But he will be able to make the trip to the University of Michigan-Dearborn to receive his two online master’s degrees thanks to a St. Louis-based humanitarian group.

Wings of Hope, whose mission is to extend human kindness to those in need, will fly Lester to Michigan for his May 1 graduation, said Doug Clements, president of Wings of Hope.

“When one human being comes to another human being with a problem, we feel there’s an obligation to solve that problem,” Clements said.

Founded in 1962 by four St. Louis business executives, Wings of Hope provides humanitarian services in 45 counties, Clements.

In the Midwest, Wings of Hope has provided transportation and medical treatments for people in need, Clements said.

Lester wasn’t seeking medical treatment, just a chance to attend his graduation ceremony.

“Jeff is dying. His time on this planet is going to be short,” Clements said. “Our role is to make that time on the planet as best as it can be.”

In an e-mail, Lester said he once marketed his family’s printing services to Wings of Hope, and the organization came to mind when the family was looking for ways to get Lester to Michigan.

“My reaction to this news was overwhelming joy because when I started my graduation campaign I knew it was a long shot but then again my life since being diagnosed with ALS has had multiple against-the-odds moments.”

Lester did not seek donations initially but started after people who wanted to help asked him to.

As of Wednesday, Lester said he had $3,000 in cash donations and another $1,450 from a raffle ticket sale.

The money will help pay for commercial flights for his wife and their three daughters as well as other travel expenses, such as hotel rooms and a wheelchair-accessible van, Lester said.

Wings of Hope will fly Lester in a twin-engine aircraft, Clements said.

Depending on how much Lester and his equipment weights, Clements said he hopes at least one member of Lester’s family can accompany him on the plane.

If Lester raises more money than he needs for the graduation trip, he would use the extra money for a new technology system that allows him to speak through eye movements, he said.

The system costs more than $4,000, Lester said.

Steven’s Say:

Fellow PALS, Jeff Lester is truly an inspiration on how to live with ALS.  Check out Jeff’s USA Today May 9th, 2011 article:

which talks about his journey with ALS and his determination to pursue these two masters degrees!  It is PALS like this that give me hope I will be able to keep my positive attitude as my progression continues, albeit much slower than usual, thank God!
Jeff Lester is one of my ALS heroes.  Who inspires life in you?  Who do you inspire?
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