Mike and Shelly O’Donnell: A Lifetime of Service and Sacrifice Recognized as Pillars of Community Amidst ALS Battle

Clay Center, KS – Mike and Shelly O’Donnell have led a life of service. Together, they fostered nearly 200 children. For 12 years, Mike also served in the United States Air Force where he had the honor of being assigned to the Minuteman Missile Alert and Launch facilities in North Dakota and Arizona. Following his service in the Air Force he served in the United States Army as a Combat Engineer and earned many specialized awards including the Army Commendation Metal, Expert Marksman, and a Military Education Award. He finished his career by again serving his country at the Manhattan, KS, Post Office for 17 years where he was a Post Master.
The O’Donnell’s moved to Clay Center in 1988. After a few years of living in the community, Shelly was determined to be part of the Clay County Medical Center (CCMC) family. She decided to pursue her CNA license in Concordia and began working at CCMC in 1996. She ultimately worked at the medical center for around 11 years. During that time, she did take about a year off to be her brother’s 24-hour caretaker.

“He was dying of cancer and they (CCMC) held the job open during that time,” she explained. A little while later, Shelly then began working as a para at Garfield Elementary. Today, she is still employed as an emergency substitute teacher for USD 379. In the spring of 2018, she received a call about Mike’s Parkinson’s diagnosis and they sought treatment at CCMC. Over the next few years, Mike worked with Speech Therapist Brenda Bohnenblust and received various services, including LSVT Loud.

Brenda Bohnenblust, Speech Therapist at CCMC, shared, “Working with Mike and Shelly O’Donnell has been a profound privilege. Their resilience, dedication, and unwavering commitment to public service, serve as an inspiration to us all. It’s an honor to have played a part in Mike’s journey.” According to LSVT Global, LSVT LOUD is an effective speech treatment for people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and other neurological conditions. Named for Mrs. Lee Silverman (Lee Silverman Voice Treatment), a woman living with PD, it was developed by Dr. Lorraine Ramig and has been scientifically studied for over 25 years with support from the National Institute for Deafness and other Communication Disorders within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other funding organizations.

LSVT LOUD trains people with PD to use their voice at a more normal loudness level while speaking at home, work, or in the community. Key to the treatment is helping people “recalibrate” their perceptions so they know how loud or soft they sound to other people and can feel comfortable using a stronger voice at a normal loudness level.

For the next three years, Mike worked with Brenda to receive LSVT LOUD treatments and other services like swallow therapy. In 2021, Shelly realized Mike had more than Parkinson’s disease. “I knew it wasn’t Parkinson’s when he would sit on the couch. You could see the muscles ripple up and down his arm. Almost like tremors.”

Upon visiting KU Med, Mike was diagnosed with ALS and shortly after began to develop tongue seizures. About a year later, the VA supplied him with a Tobii Dynovax, an eye gaze-enabled speech generating device featuring the world’s leading eye tracker. Purpose-built for people with conditions such as cerebral palsy, Rett syndrome, MS, or ALS, this Windows-based device is controlled completely with your eyes to communicate and live more independently. This assistive technology, along with the hardware to properly secure it to a bed, wheelchair, or table, has a value of around $15,000. Shelly has graciously donated the equipment to CCMC.

Given 15 to 17 months after his initial ALS diagnosis, Mike passed away 18 months later. Mike and
Shelly were married for 44 years, have 4 sons, and 2 grandchildren.

Sign up for the KCLY Digital Newspaper, The Regional