Mesa police officer dies after ALS battle - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa police officer dies after ALS battle

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Posted: Monday, September 19, 2011 11:45 am | Updated: 11:28 am, Fri Sep 30, 2011.

Funeral services for a Mesa police officer who had been battling Lou Gehrig’s disease will be held Friday and Saturday.

Mark Kelly, 32, a husband and father to five young children and a 1997 graduate of Mesa High School, died about 1 a.m. Sunday, according to a family member. He had worked for the Mesa Police Department for about six years and was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints’ Superstition ward.

Visitation will be 6 to 8 p.m. at Bunker's Garden Chapel, 33 N. Centennial Way, Mesa. Funeral services will be 10 a.m. Saturday at Red Mountain Institute, 7126 E. McKellips Road, following another visitation at 9 a.m.

Kelly, who was diagnosed with the fatal disease in April 2009 after he was having problems effectively shooting his service weapon at a target from a short distance, was told by doctors he had two to five years to live. He left his job in the summer of 2010 after his condition worsened and he no longer was able to perform desk duties in the Red Mountain Precinct.

Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), is a terminal neurological disease that destroys the nerve connections between muscles and the brain, eventually robbing the patient of his ability to walk, speak, swallow or breathe.

There are about 400 people with ALS in Arizona, and 175 in Maricopa County, according to Kim Hughes, of the Arizona Chapter of the ALS Society. Nationally, about 5,000 people are diagnosed with ALS each year.

“Certainly, it’s a difficult time for his family and the police department as well,” said Sgt. Ed Wessing, a Mesa police spokesman. “Our thoughts are with the family at this time.”

Kelly started experiencing respiratory failure late Saturday and was taken to a local hospital where he died a few hours later, Wessing said.

Like Gehrig, the Hall of Fame slugger who played for the New York Yankees in the 1920s and ’30s who died of the disease at age 37 in 1941, Kelly faced ALS with courage. Many of his colleagues donated more than 1,000 hours of vacation time so he could continue receiving a paycheck and often held fundraisers for him.

Kelly’s colleague officer, Tony Filler, often would help the Kellys by doing yard work. And Sgt. Tony Landato would visit Kelly, who was confined to a hospital bed in his final days.

In a previous interview with the Tribune, Landato said Kelly was always in a good mood and smiling during their visits and was tired of laying in bed all day.

“I’ve never seen him depressed or down about his illness,” Landato said of Kelly at the time. “He’s never complained or said ‘Why me?’ ”

Landato placed Kelly on light duty early on when he started showing the symptoms of ALS.

“He was good at what he did, and he had a gentle and upbeat personality,” Landato said.

In December 2009 during a Christmas party for Kelly and his family, the Mesa Police Association donated a handicapped-accessible van to Kelly that made it easier for him and his family to travel when he was confined to a wheelchair.

In recent months, Kelly was unable to speak or move his arms and blinked to convey certain messages after he had communicated through a laptop computer.

Kelly is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and five children ranging in age from 16 months to 11 years old. Bryce, the oldest, is a fifth-grader who plays in the Pop Warner Football League followed by Hyrum, Harley, Bryan and Mary. Kelly also is survived by his parents and numerous relatives.

In one of his last postings on the Mesa Police Association’s website, Mark Kelly said: “We are very grateful for all of your thoughts and prayers on our behalf. We really appreciate everything that you do for us and we cherish your friendships.”

Kelly also had said that he wanted to live as long as he could to be there for his wife, kids and family.

“It is my wish and dream just to be healthy and normal again,” Kelly said in his post. “Never take that for granted. God be with you till we meet again. And as my brother Mitchell would say, ‘God is my tower of strength.’ ”

In a statement, Mesa Police Association president Ryan Russell said: “The Mesa Police Department and our membership lost a well-respected Police Officer, brother and hero.  Since Mark found out he had ALS, he graciously opened up his life and educated us about Lou Gehrig’s disease. There is no doubt a great number of people are grieving his loss. It has been astounding how our agency, city employees and the public came together to aid him and his family. The Mesa Police Association asks for the public’s continued support of the Kelly family and all Mesa Police Officers, as the upcoming weeks and months will be difficult.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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