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Family fights to control end of ALS story

Posted April 8, 2015

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— Dugan Smith was a fit Fort Bragg soldier in peak condition, loving life with his wife and son, when he succumbed to ALS last March.

From the time of his diagnosis, in 2009, doctors gave him two to five years to live.

"I never would have dreamt there was something that could do this to a person," said his widow, Autumn Smith.

"It was like reading the last page of a book. You know, you were on chapter two or three, and you read the last page so you know how it's going to end. There's no other alternative."

Autumn and Dugan met in Fayetteville in 2006, after her sister encouraged her to do online dating.

They dealt with challenges common to young couples – a lack of money, too much distance and difficult work schedules, but their love was solid.

They thought long and hard about getting married, waiting a whole year after the diagnosis before taking that step.

"I told him no matter what, I was going to take care of him, because that's what he deserved," said Autumn Smith.

He lived almost seven years, a life his wife describes as positive and deliberate, and he died on his own terms.

"Every day I wake up I know it's going to be a good day," Dugan Smith said in a November 2009 interview.

He had an enthusiasm for life and did not want the disease to define him.

"I rarely saw him be angry about the disease," Autumn Smith said. "I think he was angry that he wasn't going to be the one to beat it."

As it does with every case of ALS, time eventually caught up with the Smiths.

"I think that's what my regret is, there wasn't enough time," Autumn Smith said.

Her husband was in control of his fate to the end.

"I didn't think I was going to tell people how it happened, but then Dugan and I talked about it, and he didn't want people to think he ever gave up," she said.

"I needed him to tell me it was OK. I needed him to know what the outcome was going to be, because everybody has the right to change their mind.

"I know if I would have said to him please take this treatment, he would have. But he said, 'Let me go.'"

Autumn her son, Paul, had to say goodbye.

On a cold, rainy, windy day, they celebrated his life with a military funeral on what would have been his birthday.

Autumn Smith said she knows her husband is at peace.

"He's happy," she said. "He was ready."

There is currently no cure for ALS. Last week in Raleigh, 6,000 people participated in the annual Walk to Defeat ALS, raising thousands of dollars for research being done in the Triangle to help change that fact.

Triangle Walk to Defeat ALS

Donate: Jim 'Catfish' Hunter chapter, ALS Association

The Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon that swept the nation last summer was an even bigger boon. It raised $220 million worldwide, with $230,000 of that coming from Triangle donors.


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