SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- A former San Diego police officer is sharing his story of battling a rare disease that has confined him to a wheelchair.
Alan Alvarez, who spent more than 30 years with the department, said, “I’ve been wanting to do it all my life. It was a very rewarding career.”
It was a career he was forced to leave. A few years ago, during a firearms test, he noticed something was not right.
“Something was going stiff with my hand … and the firearms instructor said something is wrong with your hands. We thought it was carpal tunnel or something like that,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez saw several neurologists, but symptoms started to worsen.
“Late in 2015, it went to my legs and I started tripping, so I did believe I had ALS,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez was eventually diagnosed with progressive muscular atrophy, which is a rare motor neuron disease in the ALS family. Progressive muscular atrophy affects his arms and legs. Alvarez can no longer walk and has limited use of his hands.
“I can’t open my fingers on my own,” he said.
“It was a pretty scary experience for me,” Alvarez added.
He said he was originally supposed to retire this year but was forced into early retirement in May 2016 due to his illness.
Alvarez’s insurance does not cover the caregivers he needs to help him with his daily routine, such as getting in and out of bed and bathing. Extra medical expenses run him roughly $5,000 a month.
“You’re praying and you’re hoping for a solution to come up because people die every day,” Alvarez said.
Thinking about his mother, Martha, brought him to tears.
“My mom [is] getting older and I’m supposed to be taking care of her,” Alvarez said. “And she’s taking care of me, so that’s hard. And it’s just not knowing.”
Despite the challenges, Alvarez is still active in the department and helps with events like Shop with a Cop. He also serves with the National Latino Peace Officers Association.
Heading into a new year, he looks ahead to the future.
"Experience life as much as you can and enjoy life and your friends and family as much as you can," Alvarez said.
There is an ongoing fundraiser for Alvarez, which was set up last year. However, he said with the growing medical expenses, the money raised so far is depleting quickly.
The San Diego Police Officers Association will be holding another fundraiser for him February 21st. For more information, click on this link.