EDUCATION Woman fights ALS and earns doctorate
This educator continues to teach and inspire those around her.
By KANTELE FRANKO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
BOARDMAN -- Dr. Beverly Copper-Butler has spent 32 years living out her passion for teaching and learning.
She took college courses for 27 of those years to keep abreast of educational trends and had planned to teach at an elementary school in Toledo for at least five more years before retiring.
About a year ago, however, life took her on a different route.
Copper-Butler's family moved her from Toledo to Boardman to be closer to her when she was diagnosed with a debilitating disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
The illness, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, weakens and paralyzes patients by destroying motor neurons that connect the brain with skeletal muscles.
There is no cure for the disease, which eventually destroys a person's respiratory function.
Copper-Butler first sought medical help when she began to lose feeling and motion in her shoulders and upper arms, but doctors had difficulty diagnosing her ailment.
News of her diagnosis finally came as 55-year-old Copper-Butler was beginning a dissertation to earn a doctorate in education through Walden University, a distance learning institution that uses online courses to educate students.
Though she was bedridden at the Boardman Specialty Care and Rehabilitation Center on South Avenue, her mental function was as sharp as ever, and Copper-Butler didn't let the loss of motion and some of her voice stop her from earning her doctorate.
Over the whispering sounds of a ventilator machine, she dictated every chapter of her dissertation to her mother, Boardman resident Anne Copper, who wrote it down by hand.
Copper-Butler's 21-year-old son, Stephen, and her sister and niece typed the notes and helped her to find information on the Internet.
"It really became a family affair," she said, noting that family members also were present when she received the doctorate in July after a year of reading and research.
Copper-Butler said she drew continuing strength from her family, friends and the aides at the facility, some of whom she used as participants in her research for the dissertation.
She studied several of the aides during her research on minority parents and their involvement in the academic lives of their children, concluding that parents' past experiences with their own parents impact their involvement, whether the experiences were positive or negative.
She expressed her appreciation for her helpers in part of her dissertation dedication, where she wrote, "In spite of my brokenness, they saw in me something worth celebrating."
Anne Copper said the hardest part of that "brokenness," the ALS, was when her daughter realized that she had to stop teaching elementary school.
However, an attitude of determination prevailed. "She feels this way: She has ALS, ALS doesn't have her," her mother said.
Friends and family members say Copper-Butler, committed to her career as a teacher, continues to educate them in the school of life.
Copper said her daughter has taught her the power of a positive attitude, especially in challenging times.
Copper-Butler also has encouraged the people who help her every day to help themselves.
Angela Julious, an aide and friend, said Copper-Butler has taught her both practical and life lessons.
She taught her how to do things on the computer, gave relationship advice and encouraged her to go back to nursing school, Julious said, noting that she expects Copper-Butler will help her study when she returns to school in the fall.
"I think it inspired a lot of us here," Julious said. "She's just a wonderful person."
Despite the disability, she finds ways to be optimistic. During her adaptation to the ALS, Copper-Butler said she recited what's known as the prayer of Jabez, which begins with "Lord, Bless me indeed, expand my territories," a prayer she believes was answered.
"I look at the ALS as an expansion of my territories," she said. "It's not one I would have chosen, but it's one that I accept."
Between meeting new people, reading and writing more about her research, eating her favorite Wedgewood pizza and keeping up with the lives of her family and friends, Copper-Butler said she is doing her best to pursue her dreams and live as she always did.
And as for the ALS? It's along for the ride.
"I don't think anybody that knew me would feel sorry for me," she said. "I'm too blessed to be stressed."