‘Team Andy,’ support network help Northampton man with ALS

  • Andy Grimaldi meets with the Gazette in the living room of his Florence home to talk about his diagnosis of ALS and the support of his friends who have formed Team Andy to raise funds for ALS research. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Andy Grimaldi, left, his wife, Lynne, and his father, Nick, talk in the living room of his Florence home about his diagnosis of ALS and the support of his friends who have formed Team Andy to raise funds for ALS research. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Andy Grimaldi meets with the Gazette in the living room of his Florence home on Wednesday, August 7, 2019, to talk about his diagnosis of ALS and the support of his friends who have formed Team Andy to raise funds for ALS research. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Andy Grimaldi meets with the Gazette in the living room of his Florence home to talk about his diagnosis of ALS and the support of his friends who have formed Team Andy to raise funds for ALS research. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Andy Grimaldi meets with the Gazette in the living room of his Florence home on Wednesday, August 7, 2019, to talk about his diagnosis of ALS and the support of his friends who have formed Team Andy to raise funds for ALS research. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A frame of photographs of Andy Grimaldi with his family and friends sits in the living room of his Florence home on Wednesday, August 7, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Andy Grimaldi and his wife, Lynne, talk in the living room of their Florence home on Wednesday, August 7, 2019, about his diagnosis of ALS and the support of his friends who have formed Team Andy to raise funds for ALS research. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Andy Grimaldi meets with the Gazette in the living room of his Florence home on Wednesday, August 7, 2019, to talk about his diagnosis of ALS and the support of his friends who have formed Team Andy to raise funds for ALS research. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Andy Grimaldi's wife, Lynne, talks in the living room of their Florence home on Wednesday, August 7, 2019, about his diagnosis of ALS and the support of friends who have formed Team Andy to raise funds for ALS research. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Andy Grimaldi, center right, in blue jeans, enjoys the support of family and friends who have formed Team Andy to raise funds for ALS research. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Andy Grimaldi's son, John, and his wife, Lynne, talk in the living room of their Florence home on Wednesday, August 7, about his diagnosis of ALS and the support of his friends who have formed Team Andy to raise funds for ALS research. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Team Andy at the Sharon Timlin Memorial 5K this past June.  Courtesy of Becky Walton

Staff Writer
Published: 8/12/2019 1:07:50 PM

NORTHAMPTON – Neighbors and friends from high school and college have come out of the woodwork to support Andy Grimaldi in his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“We’ve had so much support over the past two and a half years,” said Grimaldi, 54, in the living room of his home. “Family and friends have really sustained us throughout this.”

Almost immediately after neighbors learned about Grimaldi’s diagnosis in January 2017, they began organizing a fundraiser at the Northampton Country Club, held in April 2017, to help with necessary house renovations. ALS is a progressive disease that causes the loss of body functions.

The event drew over 300 people in support of Grimaldi and his family. He has two sons, John, 22 and Nick, 21. The funds raised went towards widening the doors in the Grimaldi household, installing a new bathroom and constructing a wheelchair-accessible ramp to the front door, a project that friends helped build.

“Many of Andy’s childhood friends turned out,” Lynne Grimaldi, Andy’s wife, said. “Some he hadn’t seen in years.”

Soon, friends from Grimaldi’s Northampton Class of 1983 formed a group to participate in the Sharon Timlin Memorial 5K, an event that raises money for ALS research, and “Team Andy” was born.

The event is in memory of Sharon Timlin, the mother of retired Red Sox pitcher Mike Timlin.

Approximately 5,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS each year, according to the ALS Association, and medical researchers are racing to find a cure for this fatal disease.

About 3,000 participants have raised over $2 million at the 5K to support Dr. Robert Brown’s neuromuscular research at UMass Medical in Worcester, according to the fundraiser’s website.

“People are committed” to Team Andy, said Lisa Wiedersheim of Hopkinton, an organizer of the group made up of 19 members. “I hope it gives him comfort and hope that he’s not alone.”

Team Andy has participated in the 5K since 2017, and this year they raised $12,000, making them the top fundraising group at the event. The group raised $5,000 its first year and $10,000 in 2018.

“Andy is always very friendly, upbeat and considerate,” said Marge LaRiverie Guarente, another Team Andy organizer. “I believe in heroes and I believe he is a hero in all senses of the word.”

Grimaldi even got to hold the World Series trophy at this year’s 5K event. Mike Timlin and a few other Red Sox players were at the fundraiser, and Grimaldi said the trophy is even heavier than it looks.

In June, he was invited to Fenway Park by the Muscular Dystrophy Association and he went down behind the pitcher’s mound and even appeared on the stadium’s jumbotron.

A ‘movement’ of support

Nicholas Grimaldi, Andy’s father, described the outpouring of support from neighbors and friends as a “movement.” A group of about a dozen friends from Andy Grimaldi’s alma mater, Wesleyan University, have been like a “band of brothers,” Nicholas Grimaldi said.

Last year, the group rented out a house in Hadley for a week, and friends flew in from across the country to spend time hanging out with Grimaldi, playing backyard games like corn hole, eating pizza and drinking beers.

“We love Andy and Lynne,” said Wesleyan classmate John Fitzpatrick, now living in Austin, Texas. “We give him a little distraction. A weekend where he doesn’t have to think about the disease.”

Another friend from Wesleyan hosted the Grimaldi’s in Spain last spring for a week, a vacation that Grimaldi jokingly said put him through the paces.

His friend is a “former football player and coach, and he had me moving every day,” Grimaldi said with a chuckle. “No rest, no naps, I mean he made me work!”

“We had a great time,” he said fondly.

Grimaldi was a high school football star himself, earning the Francis X. Keating Award from the western Massachusetts chapter of the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame.

On another occasion, Grimaldi and a Wesleyan friend spent a week sailing off the coast of Portland, Maine.

Grimaldi’s Wesleyan friends pooled resources and were able to purchase a silver Dodge Grand Caravan with wheelchair accessibility for the Grimaldi family. Last week, Grimaldi went to Local Burgy in Haydenville with a registered nurse, allowing him to enjoy freedom and mobility.

“I am really blessed to have so many long-time friends who stepped up and have kept in touch and check on me,” Grimaldi said.

His son, John Grimaldi, 22, said, “It’s comforting to know you are in good hands at all times.”

He went on, “Especially when you are with your college friends. Those are the best friends you could ever have.”

Nicholas Grimaldi said the response from friends is due to Andy’s character.

“There are so many people whose lives he has touched, and who are there in so many different ways for him now,” Nicholas Grimaldi said. “He is so upbeat, he’s never woe-is-me. He is always chuckling, always got a smile.”

‘Dignity, grace and courage’

About four years ago, Grimaldi began noticing changes in his speech, “subtle, but noticeable,” he said.

He noticed trouble in his left leg, a stiffness and coldness. Then, throughout the winter heading into 2016, he started feeling extreme fatigue.

For the next year, he would see special doctors to rule out other medical conditions and by January 2017, doctors had diagnosed him with ALS.

“My case is a fairly slow progression,” Grimaldi said. He uses an electric assist wheelchair, but can walk short distances with the help with a walker. He is recording phrases with a speech pathologist at Boston Children’s Hospital for when he eventually loses his voice.

From 2003 to 2017, Grimaldi worked for the state Lottery Commission until he had to retire.

Fitzpatrick described Grimaldi as having “dignity, grace and courage” in the face of such a debilitating disease.

“He is so important to everybody, he means the world to me,” LaRiverie Guarente said.

Grimaldi said he is lucky to have a support system of friends and family. He knows other ALS patients through Facebook that simply do not have the same resources in place.

“I am amazed at the people who have nothing,” he said. “I mean basic health care to navigate this without help is impossible. It’s a challenge, to put it mildly, for Lynne and my sons.”

For his birthday this past March, Grimaldi asked his Facebook friends to donate to Compassionate Care ALS, a non-profit in West Falmouth. He raised $5,000, prompting the director to ask, “Who is this Grimaldi guy?” and travel across the state to find out.

This past weekend, the Grimaldi family spent the weekend at a retreat center in Falmouth for ALS patients.

“It’ll be a weekend retreat with the family,” Grimaldi said.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com.




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