October 14, 2012 Update
I want to thank everyone who shared my letter below and worked to make Jeff’s dream come true. In fewer than two months, it reached its destination thanks to Pete Petrilli. On November 1, I will join Jeff as guests at the Ellen Degeneres Show. After the show, we’re hopeful Jeff will be able to meet with Ellen to tell her his story so she can invite him back on the show to inspire the world. We all know, if given the chance, they will jump at the opportunity given Jeff’s affability, optimism, and sense of humor. We will also be guests at the X-Factor on November 1.
I had the emotional honor of sharing the news with Jeff. He was elated. He can’t use his arms anymore but he can still use his legs. He literally jumped in the air and batted his feet together — three times! I know all of you share my happiness for Jeff. This is going to be such a special moment. So you can all share it with him, I will blog about the experience while we’re there and take plenty of pictures. If you want to receive updates via email, you can subscribe to my zero-profit blog by entering your email in the “Follow Blog Via Email” link at the top right of this page. In case you missed it, you can also listen to Jeff’s appearance on my radio show by clicking here.
Thanks again for your support of our brother, son, DJ, coach, counselor, friend, and inspiration Jeff Fogel.
[My letter to Ellen Degeneres]
August 20, 2012
“The truth is once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” – Morrie Schwartz
In 2000, I read Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom’s heart-warming book about his reunion with his 78-year old sociology professor Morrie Schwartz who was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). Morrie’s advice on how to live catapulted the book to the top of my favorite’s list. The same year, I heeded Morrie’s advice and took a hiatus from my job to return to work as a summer camp counselor in the Poconos. That’s where I met Jeff.
Have you ever met someone and immediately felt like you were related? Within a few days, we started calling each other “the brother I never had.” We shared the same sense of humor, outlook on life, and desire to be a positive influence in children’s lives. The campers loved nobody more than Jeff and with good reason. He sang, danced, acted, spun records, played sports, led Color War, and made them laugh uproariously.
Jeff lost his Dad to cancer when he was in middle school so I felt a special bond with him since I am so close to my own father and had mentored some children without fathers as a Big Brother. I couldn’t imagine growing up without one. As luck would have it, Jeff also lived in South Florida so we shared a lot of wonderful times together over the past 12 years.
In a tragic case of irony, doctors diagnosed Jeff with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) this year, a devastating illness that has gradually disabled him and will end his life unless researchers find a cure. Jeff has already lost the use of his arms. Since his diagnosis, he has been a shining symbol of positive thinking and sets an example for everyone in his life on how to appreciate every day. When I first asked him how he was coping with the news, he calmly replied, “Hey look, we’re all going to die. I’m going to keep living my life as I’ve always lived it.” That’s Jeff.
A few days ago, as I cut his food for him, Jeff reminded me how much you mean to him. “Ellen is so positive. I love that woman. She gives me a lot of strength. I wish I could go on her show to raise awareness about ALS and to show people that a disease doesn’t have to control their lives,” he said. Jeff always tells me he is living life to the fullest. He is doing what he enjoys most now — mentoring children and coaching basketball, his favorite sport that he used to play so often. When I asked him if the medicine he was taking was working, he shrugged off the question and replied, “The kids are my medicine.”
Jeff can’t move his arms. He can’t play basketball. He can’t spin his records anymore. But Jeff isn’t interested in talking about what he can’t do. I’ve never heard him complain once. But he can still inspire people. He has a story to tell and I hope you will consider inviting him on your show to share it. I hope you will be his medicine too. He reminds me a lot of Morrie Schwartz — same disease, but more importantly, same indomitable spirit, and if you meet him, I don’t think you or the world will ever forget him. I know I won’t.
On behalf of my brother Jeff,