Kimball Matkins embraced by community
by Marcia Schlegelmilch
York News-Times Staff Writer
Kimball Matkins turns 52 years old on October 16. He is, by many standards, still a very young man. A very young man who has met challenge after challenge. This day the challenge is to lift his very tall self out of the electric scooter chair he now needs to get around. The challenge is to straighten his lanky frame and stand. The challenge is to conserve energy; but still remain active. The challenge is to communicate with the muscles needed to function. The challenge follows Matkins everywhere he goes.
When Matkins moved back to York in January of 2001 he was already familiar with the city. Matkins had graduated from York College in 1976. And while attending college he met his first wife Debbie.
Following graduation the Matkins' made their home in the town of Wilcox for a couple of years. Kimball had grown up there. But before long the couple moved to Debbie's home state of Iowa.
Kimball and Debbie resided in Des Moines for 22 years. During that time Matkins was employed as a logistics manager for a plastic resin company. The couple raised their two children, Jason and Jenna in the Iowa capital.
Things changed for the family of four when in August of 2000 Debbie developed a cough. The cough showed up just as the Matkins' were moving their daughter Jenna to York where she was slated to attend their alma mater York College.
"Two weeks after we were here (in York to move Jenna) Debbie was diagnosed with stage four cancer. They called it lung cancer and it had already surrounded her lungs, was in her liver and the bones of her sternum. She was a housewife who never worked outside the home; never smoked. But the cancer had grown around her lung and it collapsed," Kimball says. "She had been feeling good. In 2000 we had been in California. Our son had gotten married a couple of months before Jenna came to school. She hadn't had any symptoms until she started coughing in late August."
Debbie passed away on March 16, 2000.
Kimball says he and Debbie had always wanted to move back to York where they had met and graduated. They loved the town and the college.
As time passed, Kimball found the associates degree he had earned from York College back in 1979 precluded him from applying for positions at the College.
"To work for a college, since it is an institution of higher learning, I needed a degree. The year Debbie died -- that fall was her 25 year class reunion (at York College). I came back and spoke at homecoming chapel about Christian values and raising children. That was when the question came up whether or not I would consider working for the college. I said yes, I'd love to but I knew I needed a degree," tells Kimball. He says it was President Wayne Baker who paved the way for him to go back to school. "I was just one year short of graduation so I came in as an admissions counselor while I worked on my Bachelor's Degree." Upon the completion of which Kimball was named director of financial aid.
"I couldn't have gotten that position without a degree," states Kimball.
Over the years Kimball says he's watched the blurry snapshot of his life become clearer by the day.
"When I looked back I didn't understand why things were happening. But now I have a snapshot of what God is doing in my life. Everything began to get clearer when Debbie died. When you give your life to God and say 'Take me where you want me to go ... do with me what you want to do' it is a huge faith builder. God was taking care of us when we were wondering why.
"All of my why's went away. I realize everything happened for a reason," Kimball says.
God had a purpose when he brought Kimball back to York and the college to which he had strong ties -- that would soon be very evident.
"I was remarried in November of 2001. I met my wife Melinda at a youth rally," says Kimball who instantly became father to three sons Thomas, Casey and Codey Brown.
Nearly four years later, in late summer 2005, Kimball says, "I started feeling symptoms. My right foot wouldn't work. I would go for a walk with my wife and after two blocks or so I felt like my foot was flopping. My wife said, 'Well, you turned 50 this year. Maybe you should get checked out.'
"In September I went in and they started looking."
X-rays, massage therapy, an MRI, and Doppler followed; only causing the mystery to deepen as everything seemed to be OK. Cold weather set in and tests progressed. By this time Kimball's right hand wasn't working -- he was having trouble turning the key to start his car. Perhaps lower temperatures were to blame.
"In January my doctor put me on medication to relax my muscles. He thought I might have Multiple Sclerosis. They relaxed me so much I couldn't breathe," Kimball recalls.
In the meantime symptoms were piling up and concern grew. That's when Melinda, a nursing student at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, took a scheduled course in neurological diseases.
"I was at work on the computer when she came in and said, 'I think I know what you have.' I didn't know anything about ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), but I knew of Lou Gehrig and his life. I told her, 'You picked a bad one. Go look at some more books and find something better," Kimball recalls with a chuckle.
The journey to diagnosis is a story in itself -- a rollercoaster ride eventually leading Kimball and Melinda to the Mayo Clinic where a final determination was made.
Since then a specialist, Dr. Pattee in Lincoln, has taken on Kimball's case; overseeing treatment. Kimball calls Pattee "a really good doctor." And because he is in research, Kimball has qualified to take part in test studies and experimental treatments.
Kimball would like everyone to know the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) has taken ALS under its wing and now serves as a major contributor to ALS research. Even funding Kimball's drug testing once a month, his required physical and speech therapy, and pulmonary testing.
"One of the things my wife prayed for was for me to be able to be a part of finding a cure for ALS, and that they would find a cure," Kimball says. "Hopefully they are getting closer now because 90 percent of those diagnosed with ALS die within 2-5 years of diagnoses."
According to Kimball, nationally there are 15,000 people suffering from ALS, with one diagnosed every 90 minutes; and one passing away every 90 minutes. He explains how ALS intercepts messages between the muscle and the brain -- destroying the message on the mitochondrial level.
Last year Kimball lost 20 pounds. The tall, lanky man says the weight was 20 pounds he couldn't afford to loose. And he now has to eat very slowly and carefully, because "it's very scary if I choke -- my kids worry."
"I am blessed by having a lot of people who have helped me. Mary Gloystein has provided nutrition and that helps. I am in the perfect place here in York and I know people all over the world are praying for me. Everywhere I've gone in my life I have run into Christians who have helped me. Friends I have made are all coming back for me. Unfortunately I have a disease, but fortunately I live here," states Kimball earnestly. "People are so willing to help."
At this point Kimball works a tube of lip balm out his pocket. He is a bit parched from talking and sips from a plastic drinking bottle.
And help they will by putting together a York College/ York High School Homecoming week fundraiser. The event, organized by Mary Gloystein and Sue Roush, will take place Friday, Oct. 12 from 4-7 p.m. at the Mackey Center on the York College Campus just adjacent to the football field.
Gloystein says a pork and beef barbecue dinner with all the trimmings (baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw and pie) will be served up to benefit the Matkins family. A free will offering will be taken.
"Kimball is a phenomenal person who knows what he is living on earth for. We will be selling glow necklaces and ALS bracelets. All of the proceeds will go to the family," states Gloystein.
The homecoming event provides a chance for the York College community and the community at large to come together in support of Kimball and his family.
Roush calls Kimball "a great guy." Adding, "I miss seeing him around here on a daily basis. I hope the benefit is a great success because the family could use the help."
Kimball left his position at York College and began disability on Sept. 1 of this year.
Many tears have been shed by the Matkins family. But tears have always been accompanied by a great amount of trust -- and faith. Faith that God has put them in the perfect place. A place where they are surrounded by son Jason and Kendra Matkins; daughter Jenna and Garrett Schwarz, and three grandchildren; their family at East Hill Church of Christ; York College and the community of York.