'I'm not afraid to die': Woman diagnosed with ALS enjoys 1 final trip to Mitchell Park Domes
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2020, the last two-and-a-half years have been a tough journey for Mary Heese.
"ALS came as a surprise to me," Heese said. "I was a very active power walker, runner, and then I couldn't. I couldn't run anymore. I kept dropping things."
On Thursday, Sept. 1, just weeks ahead of her 59th birthday, Heese was given an early birthday gift thanks to her family and the caregivers at VITAS Healthcare: a trip to the Mitchell Park Domes.
"I haven't been here since I was a little girl," Heese said. "I wanted to see the beauty of the nature with the plants. Just taking me back to nature."
As her health continues to deteriorate, Heese has accepted the reality her time is running out, and this visit to the Domes will be her last. Still, she's grateful for the opportunity to spend the day with her daughter and sisters.
"We're all just so excited that she was able to kind of have this day and do something fun," said Jessica Batterman, Mary's daughter. "My mom, she is a warrior through and through. Throughout this diagnosis, she has been. She's been an advocate for the other residents but she has been an advocate for herself."
Roughly 30,000 people in the United States are impacted by ALS with 5,000 new cases diagnosed every year. During her journey, Mary has remained a strong advocate for those suffering, and remains hopeful help is on the way.
"I believe a cure will be coming sooner rather than later," Heese said. "It's an unforgiving disease, but faith is with me. Strong. I'm not afraid to die."
That strength and courage is something helping her family accept the fate placed in front of them.
"It's been a tough journey, but her faith has kept her going," said her sister, Claudia Braun. "I'm grateful for that."
The family was also grateful for the opportunity for one final day out and about together. With the future uncertain, Mary says she's thankful for the memories made on Thursday at the Domes.
"I will take away the beauty of the flowers, and the plants. Just the memory of them," Heese said. "The dreams I have are me dancing and running in a grocery store. Now, maybe they'll be me running and dancing in the Domes."