ALS Across America

The ALS Association Honors Retired Navy Command Master Chief for Spreading Awareness of Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Retired Command Master Chief Paul H. Gagnon proudly served his country for 25 years working aboard submarines.  During his travels for the United States Navy, he visited myriad domestic and foreign ports including Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Rota, Spain, Holy Loch, Scotland, and Groton, Connecticut.  Today, Gagnon, who has battled ALS since his diagnosis in March 2006, educates his fellow Hawaiians about Lou Gehrig’s Disease. 

The ALS Association’s Golden West Chapter is honoring Gagnon, 65, for spreading awareness of ALS.  The chapter recognizes Gagnon and his primary caregivers daughter Gerrilyn P. Sylvester and son-in-law Robert L. Sylvester for exemplifying the spirit of “ALS Across America” during May, which is ALS Awareness Month. 

Through interactions with others, Gagnon, who holds an MBA from Hawaii Pacific University and a bachelor’s degree from Hawaii Pacific College, teaches others about Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  He educates people about the disease via email correspondence and Web-based meetings.  He also meets with other people fighting the disease at ALS support groups in Honolulu monthly where he shares the challenges he meets and overcomes daily in living with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  Additionally, fellow members who are part of the Navy League and the Submarine League learn about the disease at their groups’ meetings, including that military veterans are approximately twice as likely to develop the disease as those in the general population. 

Paul Gagnon with his daughter, Gerrilyn, and son-in-law Robert

His daughter and son-in-law play integral roles with assisting Gagnon with daily living activities, especially since Gagnon has relied on both a cane/rolator and a power wheelchair for mobility.  Gerrilyn P. Sylvester attends Kailua Community College full-time where she is studying nursing, while Robert  L. Sylvester works as a fifth grade teacher at Mokapu Elementary in Kailua, Hawaii.  Gagnon feels immense gratitude toward these loved ones for their willingness to help him. “Gerri and Robert are my angels,” he says.  “They sold everything they owned in Florida to move here and care for my wife Daria and me.”  Daria Gagnon passed away from brain cancer in March 2010.   

Even though ALS hastened his retirement from the military, Gagnon prefers to remain busy.  He attended a recent seminar that The ALS Association sponsored in April 2011 in Honolulu titled “Ask the Experts Building a Future on Hope through Research, Advocacy and Patient Care."  Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye and Governor Neil Abercrombie supported the event, and expert speakers included The Association’s Chief Scientist Lucie Bruijn, Ph.D., Chief Public Policy Officer Steve Gibson, The Association’s Golden West Chapter’s President and CEO Fred B. Fisher, and Dr. Robert G. Miller, who works at Forbes Norris ALS Treatment and Research Center in San Francisco as medical director.  

At this event, Gagnon garnered information pertaining to new research findings in ALS, legislative issues such as the Association’s public policy priorities, and the latest clinical procedures on doctors who treat people with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

During ALS Awareness Month, Gagnon will continue to alert the public about Lou Gehrig’s Disease on a local level.

The ALS Association