BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Editor
Kristi Sue (Ollila) Cooper was one of those individuals everyone flocked to as she lit up any room she entered.
Born and raised in Clarkston, graduating from Clarkston High School in 1977, Cooper sadly succumbed to ALS on November 26, 2018 at the age of 59.
Now, her family wants to carry on her legacy in the local community and with the ALS Foundation of Michigan.
“My mother was such a positive and happy woman, very strong,” said Cooper’s daughter, Chloe Ronk. “She stayed positive for us, most likely because she didn’t want us to worry. Always had a brave face on. She lived her life to the fullest. Her last summer, we took trips to Copper Harbor, Pictured Rocks and Chicago to treat Britton (Ronk’s daughter) to the American Girl doll store and see the city. All to make lasting memories as a family.”
Cooper was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in February 2018, but the whole story starts four years prior.
“It all started in 2014 as myself and my three-year-old daughter did the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge never knowing we would witness it personally,” Ronk said. “In November 2017, we as a family were busy taking care of my late grandma before her passing just days before Christmas. My mother started seeing symptoms around Christmas but kept them to herself. I attended a neurology appointment with my mother on January 8, 2018, and they said with further blood work we could know the results of her diagnosis within two days, but instead, we took off to Florida for our last family vacation visiting Disney World and SeaWorld. Upon our return on February 1, my mother received the news of her ALS diagnosis.
“Her diagnosis was heartbreaking, devastating, life altering. My mom was handed a death sentence. Honestly, we put a smile on our face every day. It’s important to stay positive. Your positive attitude helps those that are suffering. Was it hard? Absolutely.”
Still, that final trip to Florida proved to be “amazing,” according to Ronk, who also has a six-month-old daughter, Tinsley, her mother never met, and a brother, Jamison Ronk.
“We made the best memories our family has to cherish,” Ronk said. “No, she couldn’t ride the rides like she used to, but you saw the joy in her eyes watching her granddaughter laugh and smile.”
Ronk added watching ALS take its toll on her mother was extremely difficult.
“ALS is a horrible disease to witness, taking control, when you have no control,” said Ronk. “My mother first lost her ability to speak, her ability to eat, then had a suction machine, feeding port, and a port in her clavicle for her ALS medication. Watching my mother’s frustration how she lost control over her body and ability to do the things she loved most was tough, like laughing, eating, and just expressing herself.”
When Cooper passed, she was at home on hospice care with her family by her side, “peaceful,” according to Ronk.
“My mother was our world, what held us together as a family, and an inspiration as those who knew her would say,” Ronk said. “She was always positive and looking to promote everyone to be their best self. She lived for being a grandmother. Britton (now 9 years old) I think was what she strived to be, a ‘gigi.’ She put pride in her job as a cardiac sonographer, always helping everyone around her. Bottom line, she was an amazing mother and grandmother.”
With memories still fresh in her mind, Ronk has made it her priority to help other families deal with ALS and all that the disease brings.
“There is no cure for ALS, but it is my mission to find that cure and not have any other families have to watch their loved ones suffer from this disease. I want my community to be more aware and to provide donations towards the ALS Foundation of Michigan.”
With the foundation, Ronk’s goals are to help raise awareness and funds to help find a cure. The next event to do that is the Walk to Defeat ALS on October 3 at the Detroit Zoo where the gathering will include kids and Team Kristi-Gigi T-shirts.
Showing her mother’s trait for giving back, Ronk also has advice for families struggling with ALS. Not surprisingly, the advice is very uplifting.
“What I would say to any other family or friends dealing with a loved one with ALS diagnosis is to stay strong, stay positive,” said Ronk. “Enjoy the time that you have. Each diagnosis is different. My mother only lasted ten months from diagnosis to her passing. Others last years.
“Just have hope.”