Golf benefit to help Northborough resident diagnosed with ALS
By Zenya Molnar, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Matt Bruce is described by his friends as a person with a big heart who is outgoing, funny, and always looks at the bright side of life. Bruce, who grew up in Northborough, loves the outdoors and just returned from a trip to Europe. With his positive outlook and active lifestyle, one would not think that the 26-year-old was recently diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a terminal illness that causes degeneration in motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord.
According to the ALS Association, most people diagnosed with ALS are between 40 and 70 years old, with an average age of 55. It is much rarer in people under 30. An average of 15 people are newly diagnosed with ALS every day — more than 5,600 people per year. Annually, ALS is responsible for two deaths per 100,000 people. Former Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci passed away in June after a prolonged battle with ALS.
Despite Bruce’s diagnosis, he maintains an optimistic attitude, which is encouraging to his family and friends. Family friend Karen Pantazis said that Bruce lives each day to the fullest and that “he doesn’t go beyond the day that he is living at the time.”
“It’s been tough trying to not only cope with the fact that I have ALS, but also deal with it from a physical standpoint,” Bruce said. “At this point it’s really only affected my speech, but it’s scary to think what it’ll do to the rest of my body eventually.”
Bruce’s illness has not stopped him from pursuing his interests and career. As a licensed funeral apprentice with a degree from Mount Ida College, he works at Mercadante Funeral Home and Chapel in Worcester where he continue to work as long as he is able. He also enjoys fishing and hunting.
Jillian Bane, a fellow Algonquin Regional High School graduate of 2005 and a close friend of Bruce’s since freshman year, said that his outlook “makes his friends and supporters even more positive and more willing to help. He doesn’t question why it’s him.”
Bane spends a lot of time with Bruce going to Boston or to sporting events. She was devastated when she found out that Bruce had been diagnosed with ALS, but Bruce’s perspective has made it easier to cope because “he allows us to accept it and look at the positive side.”
Community support for Bruce reaches far. Pantazis, whose son is good friends with Bruce, has organized a golf benefit to be held at Cyprian Keys Golf Course Tuesday, Sept. 17. The fundraiser is being held to bring awareness to Bruce’s situation and the disease in general. Pantazis said that the principle objective of the benefit is to raise money to cover Bruce’s medical expenses, for, as the disease progresses, alterations will have to be made to Bruce’s home to make it more accessible.
The fundraiser has received a strong response so far; there are 36 foursomes competing in the golf tournament whose ages range from 20s to 60s, and businesses have been eager to donate to the raffle and auction.
“In communities like Northborough and Southborough, people come together in a crisis like this. Nobody walks away,” Pantazis said.
Many of Bruce’s friends and community members will participate in the tournament, including former Algonquin classmates whom Bruce has not seen in a long time.
The fundraiser is about “coming together for a common cause to help support the Bruce family during this emotional time and to enhance Matt’s life as much as we can,” she said.
Pantazis, who has known Bruce since he was a child, said that Bruce, always smiling, has a heart of gold.
“If you were down or needed something, he was right there,” she said. This time, the community is coming together to encourage and help Bruce continue to live his life to the fullest.
Bruce described the response to the benefit as “overwhelming,” and he is grateful for the support of his friends, family, and members of the community whom he does not know personally.
The fundraising committee is still seeking donations and sponsorships for some of the holes. For more information contact Karen Pantazis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Checks may also be made out to Bruce and sent directly to St. Mary’s Credit Union, 100 West Main St., Northborough, MA 01532.
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