- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014

GREENFIELD, Ind. (AP) - Rod Sanford leans in close, studying the words on the page.

The child beside him reads aloud at a rapid pace, his tutor listening intently to every word.

Sanford reminds the boy to slow down, not to rush his sentences.

As one of Harris Elementary School’s ReadUP tutors, Sanford helps at-risk readers sharpen their skills.

But those who know him say he is teaching students about more than reading; he is teaching them compassion for those who are different.

Sanford, 59, was diagnosed seven years ago with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The disease, which slowly breaks down muscle tissue, requires Sanford to use a wheelchair and has left him without the use of his hands.

While other tutors spend part of the session holding a book and reading to their students, Sanford depends on the young students to hold the book and turn the pages.

But Sanford’s easygoing demeanor has made it easier for the children to accept his limitations.

“I think it’s taught the kids - I don’t know what the right word is - acceptance,” Sanford told the Daily Reporter (http://bit.ly/1epslrW ). “It’s priceless.”

The first sign of ALS crept into Sanford’s right hand in 2006. He started having trouble gripping things.

After myriad doctor visits, Sanford got his diagnosis about six months later.

The prognosis for an ALS patient is grim, a matter not of if but when. There is no treatment.

But Sanford made a choice in the very beginning.

“I decided early on being bitter and mad just makes everybody else miserable,” he said.

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