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December Volunteer of the Month: Janet Brown

For Janet Brown, the details of her husband’s battle with ALS are a blur, but she remembers every emotion she felt from his diagnosis until his passing three years later. From sadness to gratitude and unwavering love, Janet experienced it all as a caregiver. Now, ALS United Mid-Atlantic can show our gratitude to Janet as our December 2023 Volunteer of the Month.

Janet Brown did not know much about ALS before her husband Jeff was diagnosed with the disease. Prior to his diagnosis, Jeff was the healthiest person that Janet knew. He was active in all aspects of life, including visiting the gym most mornings, which is where he first began to notice muscle weakness and twitching that progressively got worse. It took months for him to be diagnosed with ALS.

The next three years were the most stressful time of Janet and Jeff’s lives. They had three young children and Janet’s time was divided between caring for her husband and providing their children with as normal of a childhood as they could. While Janet extended herself to attend to every need of her family, her children saw the beauty of love for a spouse and the love of a mother, lessons that they still use today as they join Janet as volunteers for the ALS cause.

At the time of Jeff’s diagnosis, Janet had no idea what to expect from anyone. They had never experienced ALS and the reality was overwhelming. Janet continues to be grateful to social worker Melissa Coll and to Jeff’s entire care team. They utilized the ALS United Mid-Atlantic equipment loan program and said yes to any program that Melissa recommended to them.

Janet and Jeff learned the meaning and value of teamwork during his battle. It gave them a greater sense of control and let them break apart tasks and needs to be more manageable. After being overwhelmed by the challenges of ALS, they were now overwhelmed with support from family and friends who wanted to help. They started “Bases for Brown” at the local ALS Walk to raise money for ALS care and research.

Janet and Jeff at first local ALS Walk.

Jeff Brown passed away from ALS in October 2011. He left behind a loving wife and three children of ages 10, 7, and 5.

After Jeff’s passing, Janet needed a break from ALS and her Walk team. It was too fresh in her mind. After a couple of years, Janet returned as a Walk volunteer and she brought her children with her. It has now become a family tradition and, in Janet’s words, a “full circle feeling” to give back to those who helped her when she needed it.

Every year, Janet and her children join the ALS Walk in Philadelphia. They are happy to take on any job that they are asked to do and usually get assigned to hand out t-shirts to teams. Just as Janet saw people rally around her during Jeff’s challenges with ALS, she now sees countless families rally together for their own ALS battle. Those moments at the Walk inspire Janet and her children to keep coming back because they know how important it is for others facing ALS.

“All three of my children have volunteered for the ALS cause,” said Janet. “Something that caused so much pain at one point in our lives helps us heal now as we have an avenue to help others. It is a way to remember and honor our family’s experiences.”

Part of that healing and positivity for Janet comes from making new friends as a volunteer. “My favorite face to see is my fellow volunteer (2022 Volunteer of the Year) Louella. She is such a nice and giving lady.”

Janet is also happy to see Jeff’s social worker Melissa Coll, Events Staff like Carla Patton, and other familiar faces every year.

In addition to the Walk, Janet is a frequent volunteer at events with the Phillies to Strike Out ALS, the Annual Celebration, and other events to support the ALS cause. Each opportunity to volunteer makes Janet feel more connected to the ALS community and gives her a deeper appreciation for how far her family has come since Jeff’s diagnosis.

“Jeff was a wonderful father who was in the prime of his life when ALS hit him,” recalls Janet. “Like so many others, his life was cut way too short. The way he continued to live with ALS was with the goal of showing our kids that you never give up.  His perspective was published in a book that we received after his passing called ‘Living Each Day Fully.’ That is what I try to do now as a volunteer.”

Thank you, Janet Brown, for never giving up and for doing so much as a volunteer for the ALS cause. It is a testament to your love for your husband and is an everlasting example to your children and family.

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