TOWN OF CLAY, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Just two days before Jimmer Szatkowski’s career milestone of owning a second Chick-fil-A restaurant, a more serious milestone overshadowed the excitement of the grand opening.
Szatkowski shared with friends and family that two doctors agreed that he has ALS, a neurological disease that debilitates a person’s muscle systems.
His symptoms of muscle weakness and tiredness began in late 2020. At first, he blamed long-lasting side effects from his coronavirus diagnosis last year.
In an interview with NewsChannel 9, Szatkowski remembers, “I’d go out for walks and with the level of fatigue, I knew something was wrong.”
Szatkowski was able to get into a specialist at Upstate Medical University and then a doctor at Duke’s ALS Clinic, both of whom agreed with an ALS diagnosis.
Betty Szatkowski, Jimmer’s wife, will never forget information their three children, ages 20, 18 and 12.
“That was probably the hardest conversation I’ve ever had in my life, but our kids are so awesome,” Betty says. “They’re resilient and we’ve got three awesome kids who love their father, love me, love our family. They’re caring of one another. We’re the Szakowski Five and we’re going to stay there.”
The family believes it’s more than coincidence that their son was assigned to mentor Tim Green’s son at Christian Brothers Academy. That random acquaintance was the gateway to supportive phone calls with the Green Family and even emails from Tim, who can no longer speak on the phone.
“They’ve helped point us in the right direction,” says Jimmer. “They’ve come alongside us, given us emotional support, what to expect, how to handle it.”
Jimmer gets tired getting dressed and wears a leg brace for support walking but says he feels nothing beyond his initial symptoms. He’s adjusted his diet, exercise and plans to be part of a medical trial.
Doctors can’t predict how the disease will impact Jimmer, but he hopes his fast action, medical innovation and lots of prayers slow its effects on his muscles.
Betty says, ” There can be a cure. It is possible. But ALS is underfunded and not everyone is totally aware of it.”
“One thing I’ve learned in this short period of time is the ALS community is awesome. We don’t want to be in this club, but we are. There’s such grace and love and support and hope,” says Betty.
Jimmer adds: “It is my intention to fight through this. It is my intention to leave no stone unturned and my intention to help a lot of people along the way.”