Helping This Father with MSA Make Fun New Memories

Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like turning on the television, picking up a newspaper, or going online should come with a trigger warning.

Everywhere you turn it seems there are horrible people doing horrible things for horrible reasons. And if humanity isn’t making life miserable for itself, nature seems hell-bent on finishing the job.

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So when a simple act of goodness and generosity comes along, it’s worth mentioning… if for no other reason than to put a finger on the scale to counteract all the awful.

Speaking of which… “awful” seems like a good way to describe Multiple System Atrophy (MSA).

This rare neurodegenerative disease slowly and progressively robs the body of both motor control and autonomic nervous system control (AKA, the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary actions). Its symptoms closely mimic Parkinson’s disease, and while some of those symptoms can be treated, there is nothing to slow disease progression.

That can be frustrating and frightening for anyone, but imagine the fear factor if you happen to be the parent of a small child.

That’s exactly what Gary Casteel of Knoxville, Tennessee was facing.

Gary is one of the estimated 15,000 to 50,000 Americans living with MSA, and already the disease has robbed him of the ability to walk. Gary also has a three-year-old son who wanted his own backyard playset… in the shape of a train. Gary and his wife Karen knew that, given his condition, he wouldn’t be able to realistically build one himself.

Fortunately for Gary—and for my general faith in humanity—high school junior Turner Helton stepped forward to help.

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There’s nothing sweeter than lending a helping paw, er, hand. Source:

When Turner heard about the Casteel’s story, it struck a chord with him. So Turner called them up and offered to create the playset himself. Over the summer he drew up blueprints and called in volunteers to build it in the Casteel’s backyard; other volunteers from a local church put up a fence around the yard to give the family some privacy and safety. As a finishing touch, Turner installed swings and a slide from a playset his own father had designed for him years earlier.

MSA may have taken a lot from Gary, but it can’t take away the joy of watching his son play.

It can’t take away the memories they’re making as a family. And it can’t take away the kindness of one person with an open heart. In a sea of crappy news, little acts of generosity like this go a long way in balancing the scales.

Ronald Ledsen

Ronald Ledsen

After emigrating from his native Sweden, Ronald spent a stint in the Merchant Marines while trying to work out what he wanted to do with his life. He discovered a love of writing while helping a friend write anonymous Harry Potter fan-fiction online; he discovered meaning to his writing when he began journaling after an anxiety disorder diagnosis. Ronald is most relaxed when spending quiet time with his wife, two sons, and hyperactive cat.

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