‘Make the most of ev­ery sec­ond you can’

Clermont horse lover who bat­tles ALS en­joys one last ride

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Jerry Fall­strom

Clermont horse lover Dave Kee­ble main­tains an up­beat at­ti­tude that in­spires those around him as he bat­tles the rav­ages of ALS — though he wasn’t op­ti­mistic about rid­ing again.

But a friend hatched a plan to give the 47-year-old Eng­land na­tive, who uses a wheel­chair be­cause of his lim­ited mo­bil­ity, one last ride. Af­ter he fig­ured out what was go­ing on, Kee­ble was skep­ti­cal and asked Lisa Maloney with a smile, “Have you got a hoist?”

She shot back, “We’ve got strong men.” In an emo­tional scene in a south Lake County pas­ture, two men helped a de­ter­mined Kee­ble clam­ber up a mount­ing block onto a plat­form 28 inches off the ground. Then they lifted and scooted him onto Honey, a horse Kee­ble’s wife, Sharon Ward Kee­ble, de­scribed as “a sweet­heart.”

Steady­ing him­self on Honey, Dave Kee­ble dis­played the sense of hu­mor he’s clung to since be­ing di­ag­nosed with amy­otrophic lat­eral scle­ro­sis in Au­gust 2017. The fa­ther of three asked his wife, “Will you catch me?” She wouldn’t need to.

As her hus­band set­tled into the sad­dle and others po­si­tioned his feet in the stir­rups dur­ing the Dec. 7 sur­prise, he looked down

at his mount on a cool sunny day and said softly to Honey, “You’re beau­ti­ful.”

Then it was time for a springy walk around the pas­ture 35 miles west of down­town Orlando with friends guid­ing Honey as Kee­ble’s youngest daugh­ter, Faith, 12, rode along­side him on a horse named Trou­ble.

Kee­ble — who iron­i­cally took the “ice bucket chal­lenge” to raise aware­ness about ALS in 2014, be­fore he re­ally knew much about the dis­ease — was liv­ing up to his motto, “Live Fast, Take Chances.”

That’s the name of a Face­book page about the lives of “an or­di­nary Bri­tish fam­ily liv­ing in Amer­ica whose world was turned up­side down when one par­ent was di­ag­nosed with ALS.”

Cre­ated in Oc­to­ber, the page chron­i­cles Kee­ble’s jour­ney and is meant to raise aware­ness about the al­ways-fa­tal pro­gres­sive neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease.

It’s also about liv­ing life in the mo­ment — and to its fullest.

“I truly be­lieve that no mat­ter what life throws in your path that you’ve gotta make the best of it,” said Kee­ble, who be­fore he was stricken with ALS had a grow­ing main­te­nance and land­scape busi­ness. “We all have our trou­bles, but once you ac­cept them there’s no real need to let them de­stroy your fu­ture.

“Make the most of ev­ery sec­ond you can. En­joy ev­ery­thing around you. It’s beau­ti­ful, and there’s so much to see and en­joy.”

Kee­ble plans to see and do all he can in what­ever time he has left.

Ac­cord­ing to the ALS As­so­ci­a­tion, the dis­ease af­fects as many as 30,000 Americans, who live on av­er­age two to five years af­ter they’re di­ag­nosed, though many sur­vive five years or more.

Kee­ble’s fam­ily wants him around as long as pos­si­ble. To that end, his wife launched a Change.org pe­ti­tion calling on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion to ex­pe­dite the clin­i­cal tri­als process for a stem-cell ther­apy called NurOwn, which she said has re­ported im­pres­sive im­prove­ments in health and mus­cle func­tion.

“I’m al­ways look­ing for some­thing that might be a bet­ter treat­ment,” said Sharon Kee­ble, 48, an author and journalist who writes for na­tional women’s mag­a­zines in Eng­land and around the globe.

The bru­tal dis­ease has been equally trau­matic on the cou­ple’s fam­ily, which in­cludes the Kee­bles’ two other daugh­ters, 20-year-old Emily and 18-year-old Molly, and their dogs Al­fie, Kai and Beau.

Yet Dave Kee­ble re­fuses to wal­low in self pity.

“I’m not gonna sit in the cor­ner and cry about it,” he said.

Still, he added wryly, “Never take for granted scratch­ing an itch on your butt.”

That he has to rely on others for help is frus­trat­ing, he said.

Kee­ble, for in­stance, no longer can feed or dress him­self.

The fam­ily han­dles those chores. Med­i­cal bills add more stress on the fam­ily sur­viv­ing on Sharon Kee­ble’s earn­ings.

They’re grate­ful to have in­surance through the Af­ford­able Care Act but that doesn’t cover ev­ery­thing.

A friend started a Go­FundMe page aimed at rais­ing $50,000 “so that the bur­den of the as­tro­nom­i­cal costs can be eased,” in­clud­ing con­vert­ing their bath­room so Sharon Kee­ble can bathe her hus­band.

The cou­ple ap­pre­ci­ate the sup­port of friends such as Maloney, who had the idea of get­ting Dave Kee­ble on a horse again.

“What have you done, Lisa?” Kee­ble asked in dead­pan when his wife pulled up to Maloney’s home.

The sight of sev­eral cars — peo­ple who showed up to help or cheer him on — told him some­thing was up. One of those on hand, Christy Spencer, 67, of Dav­en­port called Kee­ble a “fan­tas­tic rider.”

“It’s so hard to see him like this be­cause he was so out­go­ing, con­stantly do­ing things,” she said.

Kee­ble said he has been fond of horses since he was 10 or 11 grow­ing up in Eng­land, when he re­ceived free rid­ing lessons in ex­change for help­ing to load hay at a sta­ble.

He trained his kids and others how to ride when he lived in Eng­land and later in Cen­tral Florida, where the fam­ily moved in 2005.

“I al­ways had a con­nec­tion,” he said. “Once you get that con­nec­tion you never lose it.”

Molly Kee­ble has seen it: “When he’s with horses he’s in his com­plete whole world,” she said.

But he hasn’t been on a horse in about four years, his wife said.

“He said ‘I know I’m never go­ing to get on a horse any­more,’” Sharon Kee­ble said.

Then Maloney, 54, who along with her hus­band, Brian, 60, also are horse en­thu­si­asts, cooked up a ruse about the Kee­bles com­ing over to watch Faith ride.

In­stead, peo­ple watched him ride.

Af­ter rid­ing Honey for about 20 min­utes, friends helped him off the horse. He fed Honey treats and nuz­zled qui­etly with the mare, sa­vor­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Later in the day, Kee­ble had more fun when Chris Porter, 48, of Clermont, one of his spot­ters dur­ing the horse ride, treated him to a sea­plane ride over south Lake County.

“How many peo­ple does it take to get Dave in a sea­plane with­out him fall­ing?!” Sharon Kee­ble wrote on Face­book. “Turns out it takes four strong guys and a lot of ma­nip­u­la­tion but they did it!”

Dave Kee­ble — who last sum­mer trav­eled with his fam­ily on a bucket-list trip out West that in­cluded Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park in­tends to keep see­ing and try­ing new things.

“I’ve got a beau­ti­ful wife and three beau­ti­ful daugh­ters and I owe it to them to keep go­ing for as long as I can,” said Kee­ble, in front of the fam­ily’s Christ­mas tree. “You can’t put a price on mem­o­ries.”

Such as those made when he rode around the pas­ture on Honey.

His wife summed up the mo­ment on Face­book.

“See­ing that smile on his face,” she wrote, “was the best Christ­mas present.”

STEPHEN M. DOWEL/ORLANDO SENTINEL

Horse lover Dave Kee­ble, 47, who is bat­tling ALS, smiles af­ter be­ing lifted onto a horse for a ride around a south Lake County pas­ture.

STEPHEN M. DOWEL /ORLANDO SENTINEL

Dave Kee­ble, 47, who is bat­tling ALS, feeds treats to a horse named Honey that he rode on Dec. 7. With him is his wife, Sharon Ward Kee­ble.

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