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‘Witt Wolfpack’: Family works out fundraising and awareness after La Jollan’s ALS diagnosis

The "Witt Wolfpack," from left, Taylor Dunfee, Kate Dunfee (formerly Witt) and Betsy, Todd, Scott, Ann, Lisa and Ed Witt
The “Witt Wolfpack” — from left, Taylor Dunfee, Kate Dunfee (formerly Witt) and Betsy, Todd, Scott, Ann, Lisa and Ed Witt — is raising funds and awareness after Todd’s diagnosis with ALS. Their next event is Saturday, July 16, in La Jolla.
(Courtesy of Betsy Witt)

When La Jollan Todd Witt was diagnosed with ALS last summer, he and his wife, Betsy, reacted with shock and sadness.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and over time takes away the brain’s ability to initiate and control muscle movement. Patients may lose the ability to speak, eat, move and breathe. The mean survival time is two to five years, though some people may live five to 10 years or even longer, according to the ALS Association. There is no cure.

After their initial reaction, the Witts galvanized their grief and, with the help of their family — which includes several La Jollans — started a campaign to raise awareness about the disease and money for research to fight it.

“We’re going to find a cure and someday somebody’s going to beat it,” Todd said. “It might as well be me, and it might as well be now.”

To further the effort, sister-in-law Lisa Witt has organized a workout fundraising event with coach Travis Parkyn of Orangetheory Fitness La Jolla beginning at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, July 16, at 7734 Girard Ave.

The event will start with a one-hour workout with Parkyn and will include speakers, refreshments and raffle prizes from local businesses.

Lisa is seeking $25 donations to the Witt team for the ALS Association’s Greater San Diego chapter and hopes to raise $5,000 from the event.

To register, visit web.alsa.org/goto/LisaWitt_OTF.

Members of the Witt family have rallied behind Todd and Betsy’s efforts to fund ALS research, naming themselves the “Witt Wolfpack.”

“We’re going to find a cure and someday somebody’s going to beat it. It might as well be me, and it might as well be now.”

— Todd Witt

Todd Witt, pictured with his family Betsy and Megan, is battling ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
(Taylor Dunfee)

Awareness is crucial, Lisa said. “If you know more about it and you see the signs in someone, maybe you can help them find information faster. I know people who spent years trying to figure out what they had.”

A lack of knowledge is very frustrating, Betsy said. “We’ve really had to do so much of our own research, contacting our own advocates out there to figure out what the next steps are for Todd to beat this thing.”

When Todd was diagnosed, she said, doctors told him: “‘It’s ALS; you’ve got two to five years. Go put your affairs in order.’ … There’s nothing out there; no treatment, no cure.”

“We were truly shattered,” Betsy said.

Weeks later, they signed up for the ALS Association Greater San Diego chapter’s annual Walk to Defeat ALS in October, wanting to get involved in ALS research and awareness.

“We know this is sad, but we’re also not going to let it knock us down,” Betsy said. “We’re going to do everything we can to beat it.”

The Witts’ collective fundraising netted $97,000, making the Witt Wolfpack the second-ranking fundraising team in the nation for the ALS Association.

Doing the walk, Betsy added, “just really lifted our spirits.”

She hopes to raise $100,000 for the San Diego ALS Association chapter this year. So far, the year’s total is $22,700.

The local chapter works to provide equipment and other support to about 220 patients throughout San Diego, Imperial Valley, Temecula and Lake Elsinore.

Lisa said local businesses donated more than what was asked for the July 16 event at Orangetheory Fitness and asked to be educated about ALS.

“La Jolla is such an amazing community,” she said. “It goes to show how much people want to support.”

For now, Todd is in physical therapy, acupuncture and other appointments several times a week to help keep his symptoms at bay and is looking forward to a stem cell trial he’s participating in later this month at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

“We just have this great pack of people and family and friends. We’re just so grateful and humbled,” Betsy said.

For more information on the Witt Wolfpack’s fundraising efforts, visit web.alsa.org/goto/wittwolfpack.