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Teaching, even in the face of death

An ALS patient demonstrates an important lesson – how to face a fatal illness with grace and courage.

August 25, 2010|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
(Raul Roa/Valley…)

It began with a case of what is known as "drop foot." In early 2009, La Cañada Flintridge resident Bonnie Hine found herself unable to flex her toes, and then her ankle, in the routine motions used during walking.

Her balance suffered, and she found herself falling while performing common household tasks. The problems persisted, and Hine, 68, knew that whatever was going on, it was more than the result of natural aging.

She repeatedly searched the Internet for clues to her symptoms and eventually made an appointment with a neurologist. After a battery of examinations and tests, she was given a definitive diagnosis — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, so named for the baseball star who succumbed to it in 1941.

"Anybody who has ALS knows the date [of their diagnosis]," Hine said. "It is just horrendous — Nov. 3, 2009."

A progressive neurodegenerative disease, Lou Gehrig's affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Patients lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement. Eventually they are left paralyzed, unable to swallow or breathe. The life expectancy is two to five years from diagnosis.

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As an educator, most recently at the Crescenta-Cañada Cooperative Nursery School, Hine was always teaching. She taught children how to sing the ABCs, to tie their shoe laces, to follow directions. She taught her colleagues how to handle difficult students and how to manage worried parents.

Even now, her mobility diminishing, Hine is still teaching those around her. And it is, perhaps, the most important lesson of all — how to live out her final years with the same grace and courage that has endeared her to family and friends throughout a lifetime.

Hine moved to La Cañada on Oct. 2, 1971, the day she married Maynard Hine. Her husband was raised in Glendale and worked as an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. His family owned the May Lane Motel, at Briggs Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, a local landmark used in numerous film and television shoots.

The couple had one child, Matthew, whom they enrolled at the local cooperative nursery school. Hine had experience in early-childhood development and was a frequent volunteer. When a teaching position opened up in 1987, she was hired.

"She would talk to the children as if they were on the same level and that is a very good thing to do with young children," said La Cañada resident and colleague Linda Labrie.

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