Disease can't stop man with big heart
Social worker suffers from Lou Gehrig's
By Dawn Schuett
A debilitating disease interrupted Tim Dejardin's career in social work a year ago, but it hasn't erased the impact he's made in the community and on the lives of those he helped.
Dejardin, 47, of Rochester, learned in August 2003 that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS attacks nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord, and it affects all voluntary muscle action in the body.
Paralysis occurs gradually in people with the neuro-degenerative disease, and they often lose the ability to speak, swallow and breathe. According to the ALS Association Minnesota Chapter, in most cases, the disease is fatal in less than five years following diagnosis.
The diagnosis "horrified" Dejardin, who said he started having symptoms in December 2002 and first blamed them on the stress of his job and studying for his master's degree in social work.
His health has deteriorated to the point where he now needs help with walking, eating and getting dressed. His biggest frustration with ALS is the diminishing ability to communicate, Dejardin said.
"Things I can do now, I may not be able to do a month from now," he said.
Meanwhile, Dejardin continues to be honored for the things he did before ALS.
Child Care Resource and Referral in Rochester gave its Gerry Award to Dejardin on Sept. 16 for his commitment to families, love for children, and dedication to making the community a better place to live, and for helping people reach their potential.
Dejardin traded a career in business for one in social work 10 years ago.
"I wanted to do something different," he said.
He became the coordinator of the Juvenile Restitution and Prevention Program for the Private Industry Council, which is now Workforce Development Inc. In that role, he worked with juvenile offenders referred by Dodge-Fillmore-Olmsted Community Corrections to find jobs and pay off their court-ordered restitution.
In 1997, under Dejardin's guidance, juveniles in the program established a partnership with Crisis Nursery, a program available through Child Care Resource and Referral. The juveniles decided to build Adirondack chairs, sell them and use the proceeds to buy items needed by families in the Crisis Nursery program. Later, the juveniles also made and sold custom fishing rods to benefit Crisis Nursery.
Carma Bjornson, family resource director at Child Care Resource and Referral, said Dejardin always had faith in the troubled and at-risk youths he served.
"He's a true believer in looking for the best in people and nurturing the human spirit," Bjornson said.