ROCHESTER, Mich. – When Tom Ford appeared on an episode of Sports Final Edition in May 2017, he had just been diagnosed with ALS and he talked about spreading awareness and hoping to find a cure. Nearly three years later, his mission is the same.
“After a lot of testing, I was diagnosed with ALS -- Lou Gehrig’s disease,” Ford said.
April 20, 2017, is a day his family will never forget.
“I usually fix people and tape people up, but I can’t fix this,” Ford said.
For 30 years, Ford was the go-to guy at Oakland University. As an athletic trainer, he worked with just about every sport and every student athlete. The men’s basketball team was one of his constants, and he was very close to head coach Greg Kampe.
For years, Ford went to home and away games. Oftentimes, his wife and three children had to share their father with thousands of student athletes. By 2017, Ford and his wife, Kathy, were eagerly planning their second acts.
“Tom was a healthy man,” Kathy Ford said. “We were cruising along, not knowing what was coming. Then it came.”
They received the devastating diagnosis and made a family decision to travel as much as they could and fight the disease.
“Once you are given the diagnosis, they tell you to go home and get your affairs in order,” Tom Ford said. “I know everyone has a born on date and an end date. In the space in between, we have to make every second count.”
He now speaks through a special machine, with his eyes. There’s a purple dot near letters and the mouse in his hand confirms.
Tom Ford said after the diagnosis, there was no discussion with doctors or insurance companies about quality of life. He accepted that he had ALS, but he still had plans.
As his physical abilities deteriorated, his wife could ways to continue to keep up his quality of life.
“Daily, she has to fight for me,” Tom Ford said. “Insurance company, doctors, medical supplier -- she’s on the phone to make sure things get done. You wouldn’t think in 2020 it would be so hard to get this done, but it is.”
They secured his chair, a communication device, a wheelchair accessible van, private nursing care eight hours a day and an apartment on one level. They decided in 2019 to insert a feeding tube, and he went through a tracheotomy to help him breath.
While life for the Fords isn’t easy, they believe the moves they’ve made allow Tom to enjoy his life. He has attended two weddings for his children and a third is planned for this summer. He has a new grandson and was recently inducted into the Oakland University Athletics Hall of Honor.
“I’m so honored to be inducted into the Hall of Honor among many outstanding athletes and coaches,” Tom Ford said.
Now his mission is to try to make the lives of future ALS patients better. He’s constantly on the internet researching and tweeting.
“My ultimately goal with social media is to raise awareness for this horrific disease,” he said. “ALS can strike anyone at any time, at any age.”
While there’s no cure for ALS, the Ford family is making every second count.
“I live each day to believe,” Tom Ford said. “God made a conscious decision to show you can live a life, find joy every day -- family, friends and community. That’s what we try to do.”
Oakland University has created the Tom Ford Athletic Training Center Endowment in his honor. All the proceeds will support athletic medicine.