For Austin Reyna, his mom, Cynthia, had always been his rock growing up. He knew he could always count on her for encouragement and support, even during his darkest times. He has fond memories of calling her up just to chat while he was in law school, and spending time together over dinner. When Cynthia began to feel like she had a lump in her throat. Throughout the diagnosis process, Austin and his family held out hope that the issue would be something simple.
“At that point you’re hoping, maybe it’s something simple, maybe it’s a cyst. You’re just hoping it’s anything besides ALS,” he said.
Austin was familiar with ALS even before his mother’s diagnosis because his wife’s grandmother had Bulbar ALS. She passed away on December 24th, 2019, one day after Austin learned about his mother’s diagnosis.
“I got a call from my mom to meet her and my dad at a restaurant. My brother and I met with them and she told us that she was diagnosed with Bulbar ALS, so that same day that we lost someone in our family to ALS, my mom was also diagnosed with it.”
Even with previous experience with the disease, it we extremely hard for Austin to watch as ALS affected his mom.
“The worst part was losing her voice. She was always known as the person who could give encouragement, she was kind, she was brilliant. She was absolutely amazing, and to watch her debilitate to where she couldn’t do anything was just something that really motivated my wife and me to get involved because we don’t want anyone to have to go through what we went through.”
Family members on both sides of Austin’s family got in touch with the ALS Association to help them along their journey. Austin’s mother-in-law was constantly involved in chapter meetings, and once his mom got her diagnosis, she jumped in to help.
“I think if it wasn’t for her, I don’t know if I would have made it to our wedding. But my mom was there, and she refused to be in her wheelchair during the wedding, and we got some pictures of her standing up, and it was absolutely amazing that she was able to do that.”
Austin and his wife decided to get involved with the Walk to Defeat ALS because they wanted a way to help.
“When my mom got diagnosed, my mindset was ok, what can we do?” Austin said, “I’m not a doctor, I don’t have a medical background. I’m a lawyer, but what can I physically do? The first thing my wife and I did was decide to get involved. We said, ‘Let’s walk, lets raise money, let’s put something out there and use social media. Let’s use it in a good way to raise awareness.’ Outside of careers and outside of family this is one of the biggest things that we want to take forward.”
Since ALS is such a rare disease, on of the first hurdles to overcome is awareness.
“People don’t understand the disease,” Austin explained, “It’s gotten a little bit more awareness through the MLB and the Ice Bucket Challenge, but the past few years it’s been something on the backburner, and the way it can debilitate a family is so sad. It’s 100% fatal and is so rare compared to other diseases.”
This is Austin’s second year participating in the Walk to defeat ALS, and he carries his mother’s memory with him as he works to end this terrible disease.
“Our team name is Cindy’s Angels, because my mom was always known as an angel. One of the last things she was able to communicate before she passed away was that she had left a book for me, and she was able to use the eye gaze machine to tell her sister what to write in the book for me. She said ‘I was your angel on earth, and now I am your angel in heaven’ so that is something that has always stuck with us. My wife is about to give birth, and we are going to name her after my mom, so we are just so excited to keep the name going and keep what she stood for going.”