OAKLAND -- At 73, Bill Dent is at an age many parents would expect their children to care for them.

But for the longtime Montclair resident, it's the other way around.

Dent is a full-time caregiver to his 48-year-old son, Darren, who was diagnosed in 2006 with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Darren, who grew up in Montclair and attended Skyline High and UC Berkeley, is 98 percent paralyzed and requires the use of a breathing tube and power chair. Given Darren's total reliance on his father, in many ways, caring for him is similar to when he was in infant.

"There is always mixed emotion," Bill Dent said. "Knowing we are dealing with an end-of-life stage, I feel damn lucky and say 'Hello son, I love you' everyday."

Earlier this year, Dent was one of 15 non-professional caregivers to receive a Brave Award from the pharmaceutical company Shire. The Distinguished Honorees award Dent received came with a $2,500 prize.

Darren, who communicates through typing on a computer, nominated his father for the award.

The company reported receiving more than 550 nominations from 10 countries.

"Our Brave Award winners represent the invisible army of millions of family caregivers," Angus Russell, Shire's chief executive officer said in a statement. "Their consistent care of others is an enormously generous way to live their life. We are privileged to recognize these individuals who overcome unimaginable obstacles and work tirelessly to give their loved ones as normal and healthy a life as possible."


Advertisement

Dent's wife, Parry, a 71-year-old registered nurse, trained him on how to take care for their son, who has four children of his own and lives in Martinez. Parry taught her husband how to change their son's breathing tube, stretch his limbs and give him shots.

The couple trade off 24-hour caregiving. For the first five years of his illness, the family had a professional caregiver come two days a week, but now Darren requires everyday care and help tending to his own household.

Darren was a basketball coach and a sales and marketing manager before he was struck with ALS. In his younger years, he was a water polo player and swimmer .

"He was an active guy," Bill Dent said.

But then his speech became slurred and he loss control of movement in his left hand, leading to the devastating diagnosis of a disease that can be treated for not cured. The life expectancy of the particular type of ALS that Darren has is three to five years, Dent said.

"It's just a slow deterioration," Dent said.

Darren's elementary school friend, Heather Whittington, who reconnected with him on Facebook, helped him nominate his dad for the Brave Award during one of her regular visits to Martinez.

"He does such an exceptional job," Whittington said of Bill Dent. "It is so labor intensive taking care of someone who has ALS. But he also helps with his grandkids and cooks dinner. His sacrifice has allowed Darren to stay in his home and watch his children grow up."