Reporting Heather Abraham
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — At 32-years-old, Matt Onyshko has been living with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, for five years.
When he was diagnosed, he had been a firefighter with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire for just more than a year.
“Very small changes in my hand. It was enough for me — I knew something just didn’t feel right,” Onyshko said during an emotional interview in his Brighton Heights home. “Never in my years did I think it was this.”
It was his lifelong dream to be a fireman and follow in his father’s footsteps. Onyshko’s wife, Jessica, always by his side, says life has changed.
“His life was built around being a fireman and to get that kind of news, it just throws your world into a spin,” she said.
But the Onyshko family, including their two young daughters, have been overwhelmed by the generosity of Matt’s brothers and sisters of the City of Pittsburgh Fire Bureau.
In what’s called a “Leave Bank,” firefighters have donated 6,000 hours of their own sick and vacation time so that Onyshko can continue to receive a paycheck and benefits. Not to mention the countless charity events.
“They have a fundraiser for him, with all the guys there, a few times a month,” said Jessica Onyshko, who added that it all started last October.
During the NHL lockout, Pittsburgh Police and firefighters took to the ice in a charity hockey game, raising thousands of dollars for Matt.
This Saturday, there is a charity cross fit event called “Workout for Matt.” It will be at the training academy on Washington Boulevard. It costs $25 to enter and is open to the public.
More information can be found here: iafflocal1.org
Lieutenant Ed Dursi says they want to make sure that Matt and his family never go without.
“It’s hard to see one of your members, especially a younger guy, go through what he’s going through,” said Dursi. “We want to make his home life as comfortable as possible.”
With all the money that’s been raised, the Onyshko’s are currently having a ramp and first-floor bedroom and bathroom installed in the house. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult for Matt to get up and down the stairs as the disease progresses.
Both Matt and Jessica wanted to make sure that their extended firefighter family knows how much this all means.
“We’re just so thankful and grateful for everything everyone has and continues to do for us and our family,” they say.