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Positivity in the Face of ALS: Andrew Szabo’s Story
As a published author, marketing professional, and dedicated triathlete, Andrew has spent his life pushing the limits. Still today, even in the face of ALS, nothing holds him back.
Andrew Szabo grew up in England, though his family is of Hungarian heritage. In his early adulthood, Andrew moved to Chicago with Hyatt Hotels in 1980 where he meet his wife, Melissa. In April 1986, the two married and moved to Washington, D.C. where their two children were born. The family later relocated to Las Colinas, just outside of Dallas. Andrew and Melissa have lived there ever since.
In the 41 years since Andrew has lived in the U.S., he’s built an incredible life with his family while balancing an impressive career in customer service and marketing. Andrew has worked for some of the largest direct marketing agencies as well as smaller agencies. Over the last decade, Andrew struck out on his own to speak at conferences and push the envelope as an entrepreneur. He is also the co-author of Positively Outrageous Service, which has sold over 300K copies worldwide.
Through Andrew’s career he’s tapped into his positive spirit, working with national brands, hospitals, and cities to elevate their customer experience. “I love my business,” Andrew shared.
Pushing the Limits As an Athlete
When Andrew is not inspiring others with his marketing and customer experience knowledge or spending time with family, he’s being active. He started running while at university in the UK and became even more involved with the hobby after moving to the United Sates. He soon started to run long distance races, including the 1985 Chicago Marathon, the 1986 San Francisco Marathon, and the 1987 Marine Corp. Marathon, in Washington D.C. He has since competed in 3 other marathons over the years.
Andrew didn’t stop there. He started competing in triathlons in his 30s. Andrew later added long-distance bike rides to his regimen, completing more than 15 100-mile bike races. One of those races included the Hotter ’N Hell Hundred in Wichita falls in August 2019. It’s the largest biking event in North America. In an impressive feat, Andrew turned around and the next month in September 2019, he completed another triathlon.
Searching for Answers
That same year, Andrew started to experience twitching in his muscles. As an athlete, he just attributed it to his body recovering after intense physical activity. “When you work out, that usually dies down within 45 minutes to an hour,” he noted. However, the twitching would continue for a full day after a workout. He’d ask himself, ‘Ok, I worked out 15 hours ago. Why are things still twitching?’
The twitching persisted for almost six months. And when it came time for Andrew’s yearly physical check, his doctor became concerned. They sent Andrew to see a neurologist in January 2020 where he underwent EMG testing. Those results were inconclusive.
Andrew continued to do more tests and appointments for months to find answers. All the while, he noticed more unusual changes in his body. “I realized that I didn’t have as much strength as I did before,” Andrew shared. He started to worry even more after his family vacation in August 2020. During this trip, he attempted an open water swim and paddleboarding, both of which he struggled to complete.
He would resume testing after this trip, desperately searching for answers. By this point, his doctor had two conclusions in mind—either neuropathy or ALS. Andrew’s doctor prescribed treatments to rule out neuropathy, but the treatments did not bring any improvements.
A Shocking Diagnosis
Eventually, someone suggested visiting the Mayo Clinic for a secondary diagnosis. Andrew sent them all his test results and scheduled an appointment for late May. That month, Andrew received devastating news. “On Wednesday, May the 26th, they told me I had ALS,” he tearfully shared. The diagnosis was a shock to both Andrew and Melissa.
Before ALS, Andrew was extremely active. “I used to workout 8 – 10 times a week…I used to mix it up, a lot of biking, running, swimming. I did a lot of yoga and HIIT classes, you know, all kinds of different things.” Today, simple tasks are becoming difficult to complete as he loses muscle mass in his upper body and hands. It’s difficult for him to write or cut things with a knife and fork. While he previously could swim a mile, he can hardly make 50 yards without becoming exhausted.
You know, people used to joke about me and say Andrew, you’re gonna be very lonely in your old age. You know you’re so fit, you know everyone’s gonna die before you. And then all of a sudden it looks like my expiration date is sooner than most people,” Andrew shared.
Despite the grim prognosis, Andrew is grateful that his legs are strong and that he can still speak and maintain his career.
Investing in the ALS Community
Following Andrew’s diagnosis, he and Melissa searched for support and community. Melissa shared how one friend reached out and highly recommended they connect with their local chapter of the ALS Association. At their first visit to the ALS Clinic with Dr. Heitzman, they met Tonya Hitschmann, the Director of Community Programs from ALS Texas. This encounter introduced them to our local programs like caregiver support groups, equipment loans, and educational programming.
Everybody has been extremely helpful to get us to where we are today to understand the reality, the financial, the things that we’re going to need the caregiving that’s gonna have to go into it, Melissa Szabo.
In the few months since they’ve connected with ALS Texas, the Szabo’s already feel like a part of the community. “We feel very blessed to have been connected into the ALS [Texas] Chapter and just the inclusiveness all the way around,” Melissa shared. They became heavily involved with the 2021 Walk to defeat ALS, even becoming the top fundraising team in Dallas.
Through ALS Texas’ programming, they’ve found connections with folks who understand the struggles they are facing with ALS. “Being able to connect with people that either have ALS, or have been caregivers to ALS is huge,” Andrew exclaimed.
Positivity in the Face of ALS
Andrew and Melissa are moving forward with glowing positivity in the face of a heartless disease. Andrew’s therapist recently told him, ‘For the people that handle ALS the best, I look for, I look for the three F’s—Faith, Family, and Friends.’ He and Melissa have those three things in abundance.
Andrew came to tears as he shared the vast number of people of faith who are praying for him not only in Texas but across the world. “We have a rich tapestry of friends and family that mean the world to us,” Melissa shared. And their family plans to continue living life as normal as possible, continuing to travel the world together and make memories.
These three pillars have given Andrew strength as he carries on. His life is far from over, and he feels God will use this chapter of his life in a powerful way. He hopes his story will bring more awareness to ALS so that one day, we can find a cure.
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