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Zimmer will remain a familiar face at TMP

8/27/2012

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Health concerns ended his teaching career sooner than he planned. But that won't keep Gene Zimmer away from Thomas More Prep-Marian High School.

Zimmer, a math teacher at TMP the past 12 years, was forced to retire earlier this month, just before the start of the school year when he was diagnosed with primary lateral sclerosis.

Retirement came at least a year early for Zimmer, who will turn 69 next month. He had planned to teach this school year -- and maybe longer.

But he and his wife, Mary, said they still will attend Monarch events.

Zimmer plans to help with the chain gang at TMP junior high football games and at the scorer's table for junior high basketball.

And Zimmer, forever the teacher, already is making plans for the 2012 Math Relays at Fort Hays State University. He coached TMP students at the relays during his teaching career there, leading them to 11 team titles in 11 tries.

"I already had a list of kids who I thought would be good ones for (the relays)," he said.

"He can help all he wants," said Chris Brull, who is taking over for Zimmer's four classes this year.

Zimmer said he first noticed a breathing problem during the 2011 spring semester, when he came down with a bad cold, a sickness that was going around the school at the time.

Zimmer never could shake some of the symptoms, and when they became more profound this past spring, he sought more doctors' opinions. In July, he received his diagnosis at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City.

PLS is a progressive degenerative disease of some facial muscles that affect speech and swallowing. And Zimmer's neurologist stressed he must not strain his voice.

Zimmer said he was told his condition could develop into ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"I need to stay active and can help control it with my diet," he said, listing ways of keeping his PLS in check. "Be sure not to lose muscle tone, do physical therapy. I'm going to start a regular exercise program."

Mary Zimmer said the support from family, friends and her husband's colleagues has been "amazing" as he has learned to speak differently, using more deep breathing methods so as not to strain his vocal cords.

"We have had so much support from so many people," she said. "You can be feeling low, and then you have a burst of strength.

"At first, it was a shock, but now we take it one day at a time. We have to get into a daily routine. This is all new to him."

Part of that new routine will include not getting up and going to school every morning.

"I'll miss the faculty and staff, and ..." Zimmer began.

He took a deep breath, and it was evident his hesitation came from something more than his PLS condition.

"More importantly," he said, "I'll miss the students."