GLEN ELLYN, Ill. | Tracey Kreiling has fond memories of her father while she was growing up in Florida.
"Old-fashioned things," the Glen Ellyn woman says, like her dad organizing family camping trips, playing songs on the organ and singing in his distinct Irish tenor.
Mostly, though, she remembers his amazing ability to tell stories. "He could capture a group and have them lean forward with every word he said," she says.
In 2010, her dad, Tom Ryan, began experiencing physical changes that no one could explain: a twitching in his legs and tongue, the loss of 70 pounds in less than a year.
After being sent from doctor to doctor and receiving few answers, he finally received a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a fatal neuromuscular disease that impairs muscle functions such as speaking, swallowing and eventually breathing.
In February 2012, nine months after his diagnosis, Tom died at the age of 79.
Kreiling is sharing her family's personal story in the hope it can influence greater cooperation among doctors and lead to earlier diagnosis for those who may be affected by ALS.
"I want to help patients become diagnosed before they're nearly dead," she said.
On May 3, Kreiling and her volunteer crew of 10 were on the streets of downtown Glen Ellyn from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. collecting donations for the Les Turner ALS Foundation Tag Days drive. In the south suburbs, the donation drive is May 18 and 19. The donation drive is today in LaPorte.
Donations will go toward medical research, patient services and educational activities, according to the foundation.
Some 30 such collection efforts are taking place throughout May in Chicago and the suburbs.
Kreiling said her father, a resident of Boynton Beach, Fla., dealt with various doctors in the area who didn't know how to detect ALS. She said she wants medical professionals to at least be aware of the disease's conditions to be able to recommend patients to those who may specialize in ALS detection and treatment.
She also wants veterans to be aware of the disease, since it has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a service-connected disease. Her dad served in the Army during the Korean War.
The May 3 Tag Days drive was the first time Kreiling organized a group of volunteers on behalf of ALS research. She decided to become involved in the ALS Foundation after attending a walk last year at Soldier Field, where family members honored their loved ones who were lost to the disease.
"I loved the feeling of it and the camaraderie of all the families together," she said. "I decided to do my part to help."