ALS forces feisty cook into retirement

Sterling Pointe holds a fundraising pancake breakfast May 20 to support former cook Barbara Criswell, who is afflicted with ALS-Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Princeton – Princeton resident Barbara Criswell said a Dec. 5 diagnosis that she has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, has

dramatically altered her and her husband’s future, and it means she can no longer work as a cook at the local Sterling Pointe senior living complex.
“I love the work, but then this threw me into an early retirement,” Criswell said.
Before Sterling Pointe, she worked in the kitchen of the Elim Care & Rehab in Milaca for 17 years. Criswell said she and her husband are from Texas, and she’d been a vet technician there. His job was ending and he’d formed a positive impression of Minnesota from visiting the Boundary Waters with his brother.
Criswell said he asked her what she’d think of moving to Minnesota and she said, “sure, why not?” They moved to Princeton in 1988 after originally targeting Duluth, but then he found work in Albertville. She said a friend of hers eventually suggested she apply at the Milaca Elim Home.
“And I loved it,” she said.
She needed knee surgery and had to leave that job. When she was ready to work again, Criswell wanted to be closer to home, and that was about the time Sterling Pointe in Princeton opened. She’s known in both places as the cheery cook with a great attitude and an appetite for fun, like being silly at Christmas, putting on a red nose like Rudolph.
Criswell said last September she took a leave to have surgery on her other knee, after which she went to physical therapy. She said the physical therapist could not understand why she wasn’t making better progress, so she went back to the orthopedic surgeon. The doctor asked her to demonstrate walking for him and reacted with an “uh-oh,” before sending her to a neurologist who confirmed she has ALS.
“And it’s been very fast progression,” she said, adding that she basically has no muscle control from the waist down. “Now it’s starting to creep up my arm.”
Criswell said doctors told her she has about a year or two to live, but she shares that her preference will be to not have artificial life support such as respiration. She said she’s seen what the disease does from her time working at the Elim Home and Sterling Pointe and said she’s well aware of what will happen.
Former colleagues say she has a great attitude and never complains. Criswell said her husband of nearly 30 years has been an amazing support system.
“Since we first heard the words ALS, he has gotten me anything and everything I need,” she said.
She said he is doing OK, just had surgery on his hand and goes to a support group in St. Cloud.
Criswell said besides him, she’s grateful for people’s efforts to help. Sterling Pointe will host a fundraising pancake benefit from 9-11 a.m. Saturday, May 20, at Sterling Pointe, 1250 Northland Drive, and she appreciates the kindness of strangers giving to their family through Criswell’s GoFundMe page called Angels for Barbara Criswell.
The cheerful cook said she’s doing the best she can with the situation at hand, “I’m just hanging in there and trying to be nice to everyone.”