By Melissa Klaric
Herald Staff Writer
WEST MIDDLESEX —
Malinda Koncar lost her father, Ray Witkowski, to ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, on March 6. The 30-year-old woman from West Middlesex then applied for the Ms. Pennsylvania America 2013 title as part of her mission to raise awareness for the disease. And she won.
“As a little West Middlesex girl, I can’t bring as much attention to my dad’s passing and the disease, so this will allow me to raise national awareness of the ALS Foundation, hopefully so a cure can be found.”
Koncar won the pageant crown Wednesday. She said she’s thankful to be able to use the title as a platform to educate a larger audience on Lou Gehrig’s disease, using her father’s case and her own pain as an example of its horror.
She said she and her family watched helplessly as her father, a local magician, lost the ability to breathe and suffocated.
“I did rehab with my dad but there is no recovery,” she said. “With the diagnosis, it’s a constant decline no matter what you do.”
“It’s a terrible disease,” Koncar said. “It’s very hard to watch someone go through something that traumatic and not do something about it.”
Lou Gehrig’s disease occurs when neurons connecting the brain and muscles deteriorate, causing paralysis, Koncar said.
Since communication with muscles is lost, they deteriorate, causing loss of control of the arms and legs, the ability to swallow and move the chest up and down to take a breath, Koncar said.
Once diagnosed with the disease, the average time a patient survives is two to five years.
“Dad made it two and a half years,” she said.
Witkowski and his family set up a team, Muscle Magic, which participated in the Youngstown ALS Awareness walk for the last two years.
“Our goal is to raise $100,000 in my father’s memory for team Muscle Magic,” Koncar said.
Team Muscle Magic will participate in the Eighth Annual Youngstown/Warren Walk to Defeat ALS on Oct. 13 at Eastwood Field, Niles. Koncar said she would welcome anyone to join Muscle Magic to help fight the disease.
Her father walked with them in 2011 and came in a wheelchair last October.
Koncar works as a personal trainer and said she tries to help people every day to strengthen their muscles.
Koncar is a 2000 graduate of West Middlesex High School and attended Youngstown State University. She has competed in 5K runs, triathlons, and figure and bikini competitions. She was crowned Miss Junior America–New Wilmington in 1998.
Her next big platform to promote ALS awareness will be when she competes in the Ms. America pageant in Costa Mesa, Calif., in June.
To help Koncar further her quest to find a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease, you can “like” her Facebook page. Popularity through social media is one way she can win the People’s Choice award in the pageant.
“My main goal is to raise money and awareness for Lou Gehrig’s by using this platform,” Koncar said. “It’s horrifying to watch and I don’t want anyone else to have to go through it.”