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Oakland Mom, Math Teacher Battling ALS Makes Every Moment Count

Donna Myhre with her daughter, Mikayla, in their Oakland backyard.
Donna Myhre with her daughter, Mikayla, in their Oakland backyard. Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine

OAKLAND, N.J. — Donna Myhre sits in her electric wheelchair in her Oakland living room wearing a "Life Is Great" T-shirt and a smile.

Her nails are painted bright blue, they match her shirt, and she jokes that she finally found the secret to keeping the polish on: "Stop using your hands."

Myhre, who was diagnosed with ALS five years ago, makes staying positive seem easy. But to put it simply, it's not.

She lost the ability to use her right hand and both of her legs. She can't be alone with her daughter, Mikayla, who is almost 4, for safety reasons.

And Myhre doesn't know if she'll be able to return to work as a sixth grade math teacher at Montvale's Fieldstone Middle School next year because she doesn't know what else ALS will take from her — although she does hope to.

But she says the disease has shown her the good in the world and because of that, she has hope.

"I've only been surrounded with generosity, gratitude and kindness," said Myhre, 42. "So when I get down, that just brings me right back up."

Last year, Myhre was featured on NBC's design show "George to the Rescue," which made her home more wheelchair accessible, including renovations to Mikayla's room, the kitchen and the bathroom.

The Fieldstone community has raised thousands of dollars through several fundraisers for Myhre. Three of her colleagues go out of their way to pick her up at home in her wheelchair-accessible van so that she can get to work every day.

Accepting the help has been difficult for Myhre.

"I wasn't meant to be a bystander," she said. "If you're folding laundry, I'll help you. If you're doing dishes, I'll help you.

"Now when my friends come over I offer them something to eat or drink, but then they have to get it for themselves."

Spending time with Mikayla lifts her spirits.

"She's very compassionate," Myhre said of her daughter, who is quietly picking up pieces to a Finding Nemo puzzle on the floor next to her. "Sometimes my leg will fall and she'll say, 'I'll get it.'"

Or they'll be playing catch and Myhre will miss the ball. Mikayla will yell, "I'll get it!"

Ask Myhre what her plans for summer are and she'll tell you, spending time with Mikayla and planning her upcoming birthday party.

But she doesn't like to plan much beyond that, because she doesn't know what life will bring.

"I take it one day at a time," Myhre said. "It's a progressive disease — you can't plan for everything."

Spending her time worrying about what she'll miss doesn't help either.

"You just try to do whatever you can do on any given day," said Myhre, shortly before heading to the backyard to push Mikayla on the swings.

"There are such nice people in the world. Even if I'm not here, [Mikayla] will be fine. Somebody will always pick up the pieces, and that's comforting."

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