Bev McFarland smiles when she looks at her son in his motorized wheelchair, greeting friends during lunchtime at Heights High School with his assistance dog, Sadie, at his side.
This recent day – dubbed “We Love Ross Day” during homecoming week at Heights – Ross McFarland’s wheelchair sported a sign with blinking lights that read, “Today’s all about me.”
Classmates approached the table near the cafeteria and dug into pockets and purses for money, contributing whatever they could – nickels, dimes, quarters and dollar bills – to the battle against muscular dystrophy.
“Honestly, I feel like we’re in the bonus round,” Bev McFarland said of her son. “When he was diagnosed, we didn’t know if he’d live to graduate high school.”
Ross McFarland, 17, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that causes progressive muscle wasting and weakness.
Duchenne MD is the most lethal form and affects only boys. The disorder can affect muscles as early as age 3, and by a boy’s early teens it can affect heart and respiratory muscles.
On Saturday, the fifth annual Rosstoberfest Run – named for Ross McFarland – will raise money for the effort to find treatments and a cure for Ross’ disease.
“It really started as a way to raise awareness,” Bev McFarland said. “Now I think it’s something people really look forward to.”
The race takes runners through Wichita’s College Hill neighborhood, along stone streets, through the park and up the sledding hill to a finish line near Blessed Sacrament Church. A celebration afterward at the church features a free beer for each adult participant and a bratwurst for everyone.
The first Rosstoberfest, in 2008, raised about $10,000. Last year’s raised about $32,000.
The recent “We Love Ross” efforts at Heights raised more than $1,000 and countless expressions of love and support.
Bev McFarland said some friends she met through Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, a nonprofit advocacy organization, were surprised when she decided to send Ross to Heights rather than schooling him at home where she could more closely monitor his medication and treatments.
Ross McFarland takes steroids and heart medicine to counter the effects of muscular dystrophy. In some classes, he uses a machine that lifts him to a standing position, which improves circulation and muscle tone.
“They’re just blown away. They can’t believe that a school this size could just wrap its arms around a kid – but that’s what happened,” she said.
“He loves school, and I wouldn’t want him anywhere else.”