After a Devastating Diagnosis and a Suicide Attempt, This Dad Found a Reason to Live
Augie Nieto was lying in a hospital bed when his son told him he was no longer his hero. It was 2005. The then-47-year-old had just been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s disease”) and come to this conclusion: He’d rather end his life than become a burden to his family.
When he survived his suicide attempt, he made a decision in that hospital bed:
“I was going to be a hero in my son’s eyes again… I could die from ALS or live with ALS,” Nieto, now 56, told The Mighty in an email. “I chose to live with ALS and make the most of it.”
In the next three years, he lost leg and arm use. Today, he communicates with facial motions and a device he controls with his feet. But he’s outlived the disease’s 2-to-3-year life expectancy. After diagnosis, he assumed he would miss important family milestones — graduations, marriages, grandchildren. He’s gone on to watch all four of his kids get married and witness two grandchildren’s births. And in 2007, he and his wife, Lynne, cofounded Augie’s Quest, an organization that’s raised more than $40 million for ALS research and drug development.
“I’ve learned through my journey with ALS, that there are a lot of choices,” Nieto told The Mighty. “I can choose to celebrate what I do have or mourn the loss of something I can no longer do by myself.”
Still, when his youngest child, Lindsay, 25, was preparing for her wedding this past July, Nieto had to wonder: Would he spend the day celebrating her marriage or mourning that he could not walk her down the aisle?
He decided the latter wasn’t an option.
“Throughout my life, I’ve always set goals and done everything in my power to achieve them, whether it be in business or life,” he told The Mighty. “This is a goal that is so personal, so much more important than anything I’ve done – simply because it will make Lindsay happy. Seeing her happy is the best motivator.”
On his daughter’s wedding day in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, with a device helping him stand upright, Nieto walked her down the aisle. You can watch footage of the moment in the “Today” segment below.
“I kind of thought that I would’ve been looking at [my fiancé] when I was walking down the aisle… but I couldn’t look at anything but my dad,” Lindsay told Today.com. “I was just amazed he was able to get in his device and stand up. The sun was in his eyes, and I was just thinking that he’s done so much to be here and worked so hard that I just started bawling.”
This didn’t happen overnight.
Nieto exercises every day to gain strength and maintain the strength the disease has not yet taken from him. He completes intensive workouts with therapists at least three days a week, according to the Detroit Free Press.
He stays positive simply because “there is no other way,” he told The Mighty.
“Continue living and don’t give up. You’ll have days you don’t want to, and that’s OK,” he said. “On the other days, focus on what you can do and not what you cannot do.”