Minden contractor dies of rare disease
One of the scariest and most heartbreaking thing to go through is watching a loved one fight a life-threatening disease knowing there is nothing you can do for them.
That is what Minden resident Nanette Whitfield has gone through during the past two years.
“It was my faith and our love and support for each other that got me through.” Whitfield said.
Whitfield’s husband, Steve, was diagnosed in October 2015 with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a rare, but not uncommon disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, according to alsa.org
“His story is unique as he has encouraged and inspired so many people in his life by his faith, resilience, hardworking, moral ethics, and his integrity that many of his former and current clients, sub contractors, those in Douglas County offices, the State, as well as the State Fire protection all have had wonderful things to say about him,” Whitfield said.
Steve was a local general contractor who co-owned Central Sierra Construction since April 2003.
“He has done so many building projects here in the Carson Valley, as well as several facelifts to the state Capital, inlcuding Reno/Sparks and parts of Lake Tahoe. His company even built The Record-Courier building,” Whitfield said.
Whitfield said her husband was always a hard working, strong, ambitous and loving man up to the very end.
“He loved what he did and the people he worked with and met,” Whitfield said.
It all started a few years ago when Steve felt a pain in his left thumb.
“He said it was like his thumb was extrememly tired,” Whitfield said.
Soon the pain was all over his body.
“At first he just thought it was ‘wear and tear’ from years of hard work, but I noticed he was beginning to show symptoms similar to (multiple sclerosis),” Whitfield said.
It wasn’t until she noticed an atrophy on Steve’s shoulder blade, that she knew this was something bigger and much worse than “work pains.”
Though many of the symptoms between MS and ALS are similar such as aches, fatigue, difficulty with daily tasks they are very different. MS is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack itself while ALS is a nervous system disorder that wears away nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. When muscles have no nourishment it atrophies or “wastes away.”
“When the doctors told us what he had, he already knew what he was facing,” Whitfield said. “This disease is 100 percent fatal. There are treatments, but they more or less prolong the inevitable.”
Within two years of being diagnosed Steve went from 6 feet 2 inches and weighing 210 pounds to 6 feet and 1 inches and weighing 120 pounds.
“That just shows how this disease works, he slowly became paralyzed because he couldn’t move,” Whitfield said. “He was still himself, but he was slowly loosing control of everything, inclduing his speech.”
Soon, he was unable to perform simple tasks, such as brushing his teeth or bathing. He couldn’t cook or do much of any of the things he onced enjoyed, Whitfield said.
“He was so brave through it all. At one point he said, ‘I have always supported my family and I will die supporting my family,’ and he always thanked us for helping him with anything,”she said.
Steve Whitfield passed away Nov. 18.
“He was my best friend and I got to be married to him. That’s something no money can buy and that was worth everything to me,” Whitfield said.
Whitfield said she wanted to share Steve’s story so that others could be aware of the disease and possibly save a life.
“Most people don’t know about it because those who are diagnosed don’t live long enough for studies,” Whitfield said.
“I would like to remind him (Steve) of how much this commununity, his friends and family loved him. His memory will always be here and the many buildings he has helped design will live on,” Whitfield said.
A Memorial service for Steve Whitfield was Saturday at The Kingdom Hall of Jehovahs Witnesses, 1151 Kimmerling Road, Gardnerville.