Catholic Herald staff
Seeing a loved one suffer is among the hardest trials in life. For the Strugala family, natives of Poland, a diagnosis of ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – has been all the more difficult to manage because they have no family in this country.
Adam Strugala is the building and grounds supervisor for the Diocese of Superior chancery. Last year, his wife, Halina, was diagnosed with the incurable neurodegenerative condition (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), which weakens muscle function and leads to paralysis.
Members of St. Mary Star of the Sea, Duluth, the Strugala family – Adam, Halina, and their two grown daughters Isabella and Maggie – have forged deep friendships since moving to the Duluth/Superior area a few decades ago.
Among those friends are Adam’s co-workers on the Diocese of Superior staff, who are sponsoring a spaghetti fundraiser for the Strugalas to help offset their medical expenses.
The event, which includes a silent auction, bake sale, spaghetti dinner and polka band, is from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22, at St. Francis Xavier Church Hall, 2316 E. Fourth St., Superior. Cost is a freewill offering.
Like many Polish people, the Strugalas moved from their home country to escape the restrictive environment and economic crisis following the authoritarian communist government’s declaration of martial law. They came, he said, “for freedom.”
Because they didn’t have family here, the Strugalas sought sponsorship from the church. The Diocese of Superior’s Catholic Charities Bureau was their official sponsor, and Adam worked for them for a time, along with the Sisters of St. Joseph and Edgewater Hotels, before taking his job with the Diocese of Superior 28 years ago.
“Through the years, we met a lot of people, and we met a lot of good people,” he said. “We need a lot of help now.”
Halina’s condition has progressed quickly. She can no longer speak, so communication is the first challenge, Adam added. She can still walk a little bit, although someone must follow her to ensure she doesn’t fall, and she needs help with even the simplest of tasks.
After he comes home from a day’s work at the chancery, Adam has another 16-hour shift – cooking, cleaning, caregiving – waiting for him.
“I think it’s hard,” he said. “I don’t even try to imagine how it is for her. It’s a terrible disease. It takes everything but your mind.”
Halina can no longer be home alone, and the Strugalas feel blessed to have three friends volunteering to stay with her during the day.
“They do spend a lot of time with Halina when I’m not there, and I’m very grateful. Otherwise I’d have to quit my job and stay home with her,” Adam added.
His friends in the chancery have also been very supportive in setting up a meal program and organizing the event, he said. “They cook and they are very generous with their time to put up the benefit for Halina.”
Financially, serious diseases are debilitating. Halina had to quit her job, and only the kindness of friends prevents Adam from having to hire a caregiver for her, an expense they couldn’t afford for long.
In Poland, where old customs linger, “family take care of the family,” he said. If Halina had been diagnosed there, their siblings would be caring for them.
Here, he feels social class largely determines how much help one gets. The poor have government assistance and the rich can afford care, he said, but there’s little support for the middle class.
To draw disability, for example, one must be unemployed for six months.
“What are you going to live on for six months?” he asked.
He also feels they are largely navigating an unfamiliar system without help. There was no call from a county case worker, so they contacted the county to ask about programs and found there’s little beyond Medicare available.
Adam also sat down with his lawyer to talk about how to manage their finances; he wants to ensure Halina has all the care she needs, but he’s worried about ending up “living under a bridge.”
Financial and emotional strain, coupled with the demands of 24-hour care, has made the couple’s everyday life “the toughest battle you’re ever going to fight.”
“Until you get to this place in life where I am and Halina is, nobody is going to understand what we are going through … personally, I think it’s the hardest thing any person is going to go through,” he added.
Even through such a difficult trial, Adam’s faith in God is holding firm.
“You lose the understanding of the whole faith thing because obviously we don’t know what the future is … or the logical explanation for what we’re going through,” he said. “It’s hard to deal with when you see loved ones suffering like that.”
“I still have hope,” he added. “I still pray and hope for the best. Believing in the possibility of a miracle helps you survive.”
Donations for the family, payable to Adam Strugala, may be mailed to Strugala Family Benefit, c/o Diocese of Superior, P.O. Box 969, Superior WI, 54880.