A mother from Idaho was struck with gratitude when her family received $10,000 from a Secret Santa, which will help pay for medical bills for her husband, who is battling ALS.
Wyatt Rees had recently been hired as a fulltime teacher with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2014 when he experienced a continual twitch in his tongue and a loss of feeling in one of his arms. He was 29, new on the job, and becoming increasingly worried that what was happening to his body would derail what he had worked for. During the next three years, Wyatt became confined to a wheelchair and lost the ability to talk or eat by himself. After dozens of doctor appointments, he received a diagnosis of ALS upon his visit to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, just before his 33rd birthday in August 2017.
“In the heat of it, in the moment of it, it’s heart-wrenching, nobody wants to hear that,” Mindy Rees, Wyatt’s wife of 11 years, tells PEOPLE. “It’s a horrible diagnosis, but having the right diagnosis lets you live more comfortably.”
ALS—also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease—is a rare and incurable progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, according to the ALS Association. When the nerve cells break down and the brain is unable to initiate movement, patients lose muscle functionality, potentially leading to complete paralysis as the disease progresses. The organization says there are an estimated 20,000 people in the United States with the disease, which usually affects people through the ages of 40 and 70.
Mindy, who is taking care of her husband fulltime, says the couple and their four children—aged 7, 5, 2 and 4 months—have had a great support system with their community, and every day, the family works together to suction out Wyatt’s mouth, wipe his eyes, gather his medicine, cook his food and dress him.
“They all know how to help him, so we make it like a family effort,” Mindy, of Idaho Falls, says. “I’ll do anything for the person that I love, and if that means that I have to sacrifice, it’s not a sacrifice to me. I get to be with that person that I love, and take care of him.”
But an early Christmas miracle fell upon the family in December, when the team from East Idaho News presented the family with a $10,000 check, coming from a kind-hearted Secret Santa who is on a mission to give away $200,000 before Christmas to people in need with the help of the news station.
“The whole thing was a surprise!” Mindy recalls excitedly. “It totally caught me off guard!”
After news of their Christmas miracle spread, the Mindy received many other offers to help, even being gifted a lift-equipped van by a local family that will help get Wyatt to medical appointments.
While many others continue to reach out to see how they can help the family, Mindy wants to spread the cheer around, and hopes that people across the country will find other families with a member who has ALS and offer them help instead. They will appreciate knowing they have support in their fight.
“Whoever is facing ALS, know you’re not alone. When a doctor gives you a diagnosis they can’t fix, trust that God knows you and knows what you are going through,” Mindy says. “ALS has taught me A means ‘attitude,’ L means ‘love’ and S mean ‘service.’ Good can come out of a bad situation.”