GREENFIELD — Brian Mitchell isn’t a fan of being in the spotlight, and he certainly doesn’t like asking for favors.
Yet friends and family convinced the Greenfield father of three to post a GoFundMe page for his family as they deal with the double blow of his Lou Gehrig’s disease and his wife’s breast cancer battle.
Since he posted the page Nov. 7, it has raised over $144,000 — well over half of its $250,000 goal.
The money raised will be used to help the family make adjustments to living with Mitchell’s disease — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS — a fatal neurological disease for which there is no cure. Characterized by progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain, ALS affects voluntary control of the arms and legs and leads to trouble breathing.
“Friday, September 9th, 2022 was the day I was diagnosed with (ALS),” Mitchell shares on his GoFundMe page.
“My life was turned upside down when I was told I had one to three years to live. With the sudden realization that my oldest child was only a freshman in high school, I lost my composure when it sunk in I would not get to see any of my kids graduate and that I would not get to be a grandpa … and I know I would have been the best grandpa!”
Mitchell, 48, said he was encouraged to post a GoFundMe page to help with necessary expenses brought on by his illness that weren’t covered by insurance. The extra help could also help him go on disability sooner so he can spend more time with his family while he can still enjoy it.
He’s already beginning to lose muscle control in his arms and doesn’t know how much longer he’ll be able to work as a senior director at Eli Lilly & Co.
As his condition progresses, he knows he’ll have to make modifications to his house and purchase a handicap-accessible van, as he’ll be confined to a wheelchair.
It’s a lot for him and his family to process, said Mitchell, who has a 15-year-old son, Tanner, and 12-year-old twins — a son, Kellan, and daughter, Kallista.
His wife, Amy, said the family has been “completely overwhelmed and dumbfounded” by the community’s outpouring of support.
“I’m just blown away by everyone’s support — from the church community, the soccer community, Brian’s work community, and the community at large. Everybody has just really stepped up and pitched in,” she said.
Mitchell is perhaps best known in the community for his devotion to youth soccer as a coordinator for New Palestine United, a nonprofit soccer club offering travel and recreational play.
He and his family are also longtime members of Zion Lutheran Church in New Palestine, where their twins attend school. Their oldest son is a sophomore at Lutheran High School in Indianapolis.
Mitchell has been living with ALS since he was first diagnosed Sept. 9, 2022.
He and his wife were about to tell their children about his ALS diagnosis a year ago when Amy got diagnosed with breast cancer last November.
Not wanting to overwhelm them, they held off on the news of his diagnosis to focus on Amy’s cancer battle.
“We made the choice to keep mine a tightly held secret while we focused on her his last year,” he said.
“Her journey has been difficult,” he shared on his GoFundMe page. “…significant surgery, seven months of aggressive chemotherapy and finally 25 radiation treatments. Through it all, Amy has handled everything with an amazing sense of calmness, grace and toughness,” he shared.
The family is hopeful her treatment will be complete by Christmastime.
Breaking the news
As Mitchell focused on his wife’s treatment over the past year, his therapist suggested he work on a video sharing his own diagnosis with family and friends — a project he started back in January. It was that video, complete with pictures and a voice-over by Mitchell, that would eventually be posted to his GoFundMe Page.
With his arm functioning continuing to deteriorate, he and wife made the heartbreaking decision to tell their kids about his condition on October 28.
He broke the news to his co-workers just last week when he released the video he made to colleagues and friends.
While it’s been painful sharing the news with loved ones, Mitchell said nothing compares to the heartbreak of telling his own kids.
“I think they’re processing it in their own way. My oldest is very angry. But they’re surrounded by family and some really good friends that are helping them through it all,” he said.
They’ve also taken comfort in the outpouring of support from the community at large.
While his wife is unceasingly thankful that GoFundMe donations will likely allow the family to make necessary modifications without leaving the family in debt, what she’s most thankful for is seeing how much her husband is loved and supported by so many.
“I think the coolest thing to see is all the comments people are making. It shows how much of an impact he’s had,” said Amy, 48, who celebrated her 26th anniversary with her husband earlier this month.
“He’s been my best friend for 29 years, so I know how great he is, but to see how much everybody cares is really heartwarming and it means a lot,” she said.
The couple met when they were both freshmen at Carthage College in Kenosha, in their home state of Wisconsin.
“I was hitting on one of her dormmates, being silly talking to girls, then she caught my attention and the rest is history,” Mitchell said.
“It took about four times asking her out before she finally said yes,” he recalled with a smile. “That was the first date of the rest of our lives. When you know you know. We’ve been two peas in a pod ever since.”
The couple moved to the Greenfield area 22 years ago and quickly became connected to the community.
One of Mitchell’s biggest passions has been growing the New Palestine United soccer program, along with his best friend, Brion St. Amour of New Palestine.
“Brian helped grow the program from 200 kids to almost 500 kids per season, and he’s also been active in raising funds for breast cancer in addition to volunteering at his church. It’s really great to see the community really stepping up to support someone who has done so much for the community,” said St. Amour, whose three children are the same ages as Mitchell’s.
St. Amour was among Mitchell’s close circle of friends that encouraged him to turn his video into a GoFundMe page.
“The amount of pressure it took for (Brian) to actually create the post shows that asking for help is not something that comes easily to him,” he said.
Mitchell said his therapist encouraged him to ask for help when he was ready, so he did.
“My wife and I have mixed emotions asking for help,” said Mitchell. “We’ve always just been hard-working and not ones to ask for handouts. It’s very hard for me as somebody who has worked hard all my life to provide for my family. To think about not being able to do that soon is tearing me up inside,” he said.
Mitchell said that while his Christian faith gives him comfort in knowing his “future is secure,” he wants to make sure his family is secure before he passes.
“I just want people to know how much we love them for their help,” said the loving father and husband, who is looking forward to embracing the Christmas season with his family.
“I’m just trying to create memories. I’m not trying to do anything else,” he said. “We’re just so humbled and blessed.”
Mitchell’s GoFundMe page — Family & Friends 4 Brian — can be viewed at GoFundMe.com/f/friendsofbrianmitchell.