By Chris Burroughs
To Reach the Unreachable Star, a fundraiser for the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins Hospital, is being spearheaded by Baltimore City resident Jim Kotmair.
Joining him are a group of volunteers known as the Friends of the Robert Packard Center. The Baker-King Fund, a nonprofit that funds organizations helping those in need, is co-sponsoring the event.
The musical fundraiser will be held from 7:30 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, at Kraushaar Auditorium on the Goucher College campus.
For Kotmair, the fundraiser has a personal dimension. The 62-year-old was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, in 2004. Also, his wife, Ann, had a friend who succumbed to the fatal disease.
He said it is important the public learns as much about ALS as they do about other diseases, and said this fundraiser is part of that effort.
"Making the public aware of ALS and spreading the message about are the key outcomes of this fundraiser, as well as the dollars raised," he said.
A Baltimore native and 1963 graduate of Calvert Hall, Kotmair went to college, served in Vietnam, raised a family and worked in the configuration management department at Lockheed Martin in Rockville.
It was in January 2004 that he was diagnosed with ALS after feeling a "rippling sensation" underneath his skin. Trips to the doctor and then neurologist ended up in numerous tests.
He did his own research, discovering that ALS could be the culprit.
When the news came, it wasn't a total shock, he said.
"I was kind of prepared and I told Ann that I feared it could be ALS," he said. "I always tend to expect the worse and so I can be surprised by good news."
An arrangement was made with Lockheed Martin to allow Kotmair to work from home once the disease made driving too difficult, a fear that became a reality in November 2004.
From that time until Aug. 7 of this year, he worked from home. Now, however, he has little to no use of his arms and cannot stand on his own due to the weakness in his hips and legs. He is now on short-term disability with an option to go long-term if needed.
The research center
All of his energies are now directed toward helping the Packard Center, where he meets with physicians and occupational therapists. These relationships convinced him to do the fundraiser.
"I got to know the physicians and researched the work they do. I was impressed with the uniqueness of the center. They believe in a collaborative effort, bring physicians from around the world together to present their research. There is a positive attitude there and the center has produced a number of findings," he said.
To Reach the Unreachable Star is designed to raise ALS awareness, especially in the Baltimore area. Those in attendance will hear from author Jonathan Eig, who wrote a biography on perhaps the most famous person to be diagnosed with ALS, baseball player Lou Gehrig, a New York Yankee who died in 1941.
Musical acts will be string quartet the Gypsy Strings, the Larks chorus, soprano Laura Choi Stuart, bass-baritone Robert Cantrell, pianist-accompanist Rebecca Jones Trout, the Ultimate Abbott and Costello Tribute Show and baritone Jamie Kotmair, Jim Kotmair's son.
Kotmair's hope is to fill the 1,000-seat auditorium and raise at least $30,000.
Most of all, he hopes the public walks away with more insight into ALS.
"We need to work hard to bring recognition, which brings in more dollars for research, which will hopefully lead to a cure. It (a cure) probably won't happen in my lifetime, but there will be others who will get ALS," he said.
Tickets for the event are $30 and can be purchased by mailing a check payable to the Baker-King Fund at P.O. Box 5669, Baltimore, MD 21210. Write "ALS Benefit" in the memo line.
Order forms can also be downloaded from the Baker-King Web site, www.baker-king.org.
E-mail Chris Burroughs at Chris Burroughs@patuxent.com