WAYNE, N.J. — Gary Ragusa had every intention of returning to the rink after taking a break from playing in two men’s hockey leagues to rehabilitate an injured elbow.
Although he thought the lack of exercise was causing a drag in his left leg, it turned out to be the early symptoms of ALS — a progressive neuro-degenerative condition commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease."
After one last lap around the ice, the May diagnosis left Ragusa to support his teammates on Goodfellas, from Little Falls, and the Stars, out of Wayne, from the sidelines.
Now, members of "Team Goose" are assisting him in any way they can.
“I used to be too lazy to get off the couch sometimes for the 10:30 or 11 p.m. hockey games,” he said. "Now I’d be happy to play 10 more games at midnight.”
Ragusa's wife, Janine, completed the ALS ice bucket challenge in the summer of 2014 not realizing that it would one day help her family.
The challenge has lately taken on a new meaning for the couple, who completed it together with their boys, Gary Jr., 16, and Ryan, 13, last spring at a community-wide 5K race in Gary’s honor.
"All the support from friends and family helps," said Ragusa, who will be honored again in November at a benefit hockey game hosted by the New Jersey Devils, thanks to his teammate and former NHL defender Bruce Driver.
A GoFundMe account established by Michael Riga has since last month raised more than $18,000 to help the Ragusas pay for an experimental stem-cell treatment the family hopes that the FDA will soon approve at Rutgers’ Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
The money will also go toward making a family bathroom handicap-accessible.
Ragusa recently had began turning down community charity events so he could spend more time with his family, he said.
“There’s no timetable with ALS,” Ragusa said. “I have my breakdown, but I try to stay positive as much as I can.
“I try to live my life every day.”
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