Let’s help Ocean County Sheriff’s Detective and his family as he battles ALS
The Ocean County Sheriff's Office PBA Local 379 is asking for the community to come together and help in raising funds for Detective Phil Sickinger and his family as he battles ALS.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is perhaps most commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease named after the legendary New York Yankees first baseman who contracted the illness in the 1930's forcing him to retire early from his hall of fame career.
The CDC explains that ALS is a disease that affects nerve cells in the body which lose the ability to trigger specific muscles causing them to weaken and stop working, leading to paralysis.
Detective Sickinger is 39-years old, recently celebrated his 10th wedding anniversary with his wife Diana and they have two daughters, 4-year old Harper and 8-year old Olivia.
It was in late 2018 that he began to feel something was off while hunting.
He wasn't able to draw back his bow like he had been used to doing.
After that, he suffered full body muscle spasms.
This led to a series of tests and doctors appointments to try and figure out what was going on.
He was first diagnosed with Hypothyroidism, which is an under-active thyroid.
In January of 2020, Detective Sickinger was diagnosed with ALS then Lyme Disease and Mold Toxicity.
"I was feeling very weak, so I went to the doctors and he thought it was Lyme, did a test and said it's not Lyme, you should go see a rheumatologist which turned into seeing 2 rheumatologist's, an infectious disease doctor, two neurologists, endocrinologist and a neuromuscular doctor (at Robert Wood Johnson) who diagnosed me with ALS," Detective Sickinger tells Townsquare Media News. "I went to a Lyme literate doctor who did some more in-depth Lyme's tests and it came back positive for Lyme."
The emotional reaction to being diagnosed with ALS was just starting to sink in at that point.
Following the diagnoses, Ocean County Sheriff Mike Mastronardy immediately stepped in to help Detective Sickinger and Diana find some more answers.
"Once we did get the diagnoses, which was obviously devastating, we came in to see the Sheriff and he was shocked like everyone else and he immediately asked if it was okay that he made a phone call for us and he reached out to some contacts he has and was able to get us in touch with the right people to have us seen at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and we were able to get in with the leading doctor on the East Coast to have some further testing done and get a second opinion," Diana said.
Over the last few months, Detective Sickinger with Diana's help has adapted to a new way of living with ALS.
"I can't really use my arms, can't write, it's hard to type, I have to use a walker to walk. In our house, we have a chairlift for me to get up the steps, I have a special recliner that lifts me up out of the seat," Detective Sickinger said.
From the Sheriff's Department to the community and their families, Detective Sickinger and Diana have received some help at home helping take care of chores like cutting the lawn and helping make them comfortable with a deck outside and a hot tub which was donated by the OCSO PBA and Stafford Police PBA.
They've also received homemade meals from the community and help bringing Phil to and from doctors appointments.
It's all helped navigate through uncharted waters.
"It's a very long road and it's not a traditional illness where you get a diagnoses, you get treatment, you get better, this is a lot of throwing things out there and seeing what works," Diana said. "Some of his therapies are done at home, some of them he's out of the house which is getting a bit more difficult."
That difficulty has been heightened due to the Covid-19 pandemic and all the shutdowns and closings that followed.
"It was to get to in-person doctors appointments, people weren't open, so the doctors couldn't really see how rapid his decline has been until things started to kind of loosen up," Diana said.
Since the diagnoses, it's been an emotional journey for the entire family starting with Phil who has done his best to assess the situation each and everyday.
Is he scared?
"Oh yeah, I'm a mess, I probably cry on a daily basis, I'm frustrated. We have two daughters and they ask me to do a lot of things which I can't do which drives me nuts. I do see a therapist, because like I said I'm frustrated, scared...every emotion you can think of, I've had it somewhere along the line," Phil said. "I wake up in the morning wondering, what am I not going to be able to do today, am I going to be able to walk just to get to the bathroom? So it's rough."
Phil and Diana have both been able to do their best to keep their daughters (4 and 8) calm and unaware of the ALS diagnoses and what that means.
"They've seen the transitions over time, slowly, and we had another member of our family, his older brother, who was in a hunting accident earlier this year and hurt his back really bad so we kind of piggybacked on that and said that Daddy had hurt his back as well," Diana said. "And they've heard conversations, so now the little one always says she can't wait until the mold is out of his back. And they're so great at home, they help him make his shakes in the morning and set up the chairlift for him. They know something is going on but you have to speak it in kid terms to them."
"They're very good at helping me out, I'm very proud," Phil said.
One of the toughest daily battles for Diana is watching Phil be unable to do all the activities he enjoyed doing or being a member of law enforcement for so many years.
"I think that's been one of the really hard parts for him is the loss of identity and with work, he never wanted to do anything else in his life and he's very good at what he does," Diana said.
Diana and Phil have done their best to keep things as normal as possible for themselves as well as for Harper and Olivia and having the support of local law enforcement in Ocean County and the local community has kept all their spirits up.
"It all started with Sheriff Mastronardy, once we went in there and told him my diagnoses I said listen I can't be on the road anymore and within two days he had me at a desk and helping me out anyway he could. He calls me on a weekly basis, he asks me how my wife is doing, how the girls are doing...and the PBA has been outstanding as well," Phil said.
"There is no other place I could imagine going through what we're going through because this community, this county as a whole has just been so amazing and so supportive," Diana said.
Detective Sinkinger has spent 17-years in the Ocean County Sheriff's Office serving the department in a number of ranks and roles including on the Ocean County Regional SWAT Team, the Marine Unit, a firearms instructor and as a drone operator.
It's all meant a great deal to him following in the footsteps of his grandfather, father, uncle and brother who were in law enforcement as well.
"It's been amazing, I've had a great time and I worked with my best friends," Phil said. "Everyday was something different and I didn't take off much, I have all this vacation time and sick time I could use but I don't because I enjoy work. I like to come to work and find the bad guys and we found a lot of bad guys."
From family and friends to businesses and residents in the community, there's been an outpouring of support for Detective Sickinger and his family thanks in part to the #NoShaveNovember online campaign the Ocean County Sheriff's PBA Local 379 has been running to help them out.
"When our PBA President Fred Milani approached the Sheriff about doing this campaign and growing bears and moustaches, the Sheriff said we'll do it but we want all our members to get involved and all the funds raised go to Phil, there was zero hesitation with that," OCSO Officer Don Fazio, who is running the campaign, tells Townsquare Media News. "We're glad he pushed us in this direction and we're extremely glad the backing we've had from our brothers in arms but the female officers as well who are campaigning for us and they were rocking mustaches too (see pictures below). We've gathered and joined together with the Ocean County Prosecutors Office and Ocean County Jail as well. They're all pushing for us."
If you are able and would like to donate, you can write a check to the Ocean County Sheriff's Office PBA Local 379 or via a special paypal account set up.
There is also a Facebook page where you can show support, called 'Ocean County Mo's 4 Phil'.
There are other ways you can help the Sickinger family and honor the work Phil has done as a Law Enforcement Officer in the weeks and months ahead.
"Just the continued prayers and the continued support, the continued love and respect and kindness...people have been very good about giving us our space but also being so close to the perimeter and knowing when they can help us," Diana said. "I think just continuing to pray for our family and take care of us and take care of their own families and just try and be kind to one another. If you see us out, just keep cheering us on."