AJ Hite and his wife Ashley said they are sticking together, in sickness and in health. In the young Bridesburg couple’s case, their commitment is now more meaningful than ever.
The two made that vow four years ago, and are now making good on it, together, as Hite awaits an official diagnosis of just what’s brought on the falls and near-chronic leg pain he’s experienced since November last year.
Hite, 27, a Philadelphia Parking Authority officer — now on family medical leave until July 3 — said he’s been told that a likely diagnosis at this point is ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“We’ve put our faith back in God. There are days we both have a difficult time because we don’t know what’s going on,” Hite said. “But you just have to keep moving and keep positive, and don’t let the outlook of ‘what could happen’ happen.”
He and Ashley Hite (née Bruner), 26, during a June 15 interview at their Garden Street home, sat together as their jet-black kitten pranced among packed cardboard boxes — the couple has to soon move in with Bruner’s father, right next door, as they are now unable to continue renting their home due to Hite’s medical bills.
To help offset some of the mounting costs of Hite’s tests and treatment, his family and Bruner’s have arranged for a beef-and-beer benefit called “AJ’s Angels,” to take place June 29 from 7 to 11 p.m. at Polonia Hall, at 4431 Belgrade St.
Hite said that it’s a blessing to have the support of his and his wife’s families, but the road leading to this still uncertain place has been a rough one.
He said that in November 2011, he began feeling pain in his legs, and in early December he started falling in the shower and on stairs.
Hite visited his family doctor later in December for a test in which the doctor poked his legs with needles — he couldn’t feel anything.
After more testing, doctors ruled out lupus and multiple sclerosis (MS), and in April, he began ALS testing.
He is now a patient of Dr. Terry Heiman-Patterson at the ALS Hope Foundation clinic at Hahnemann University Hospital. He won’t undergo more testing or potentially know of a diagnosis until September.
“Some days, I don’t get out of bed, other days it’s a dull pain or no pain,” Hite said. “But I can’t walk without canes or my walker, and some days I’m in a wheelchair.”
Hite explained that there is no cure for ALS, and that there is only one drug that slows down the advancement of the disease, one he said in most cases take patients’ lives within five years. He said if he were diagnosed, he’d become a “guinea pig” for treatments.
“We have faith that if it is [ALS], I’ll be the one that would be cured,” he said.
Hite said his faith extends to the faith he has in his wife.
“She is a very strong woman. I don’t know where she gets it from, but she is one of the strongest people I know,” he said, and added that Bruner’s father is currently battling Stage IV prostate cancer. “It makes me very happy to know that I have found somebody that will be there.”
Bruner, who works at Police and Fire Federal Credit Union on Arch Street as well as at Ida Mae’s restaurant in Fishtown, is now shouldering the pair’s financial burdens, and provides her husband with daily care.
“There are no sick days, there is no ‘I don’t feel like doing this,’” she said of supporting her husband. “When you take care of somebody, that is your job. It’s my job to take care of him. I do what I have to do.”
Hite, who worked as an EMT before taking the PPA job, said that it’s been jarring to go from walking around the city’s streets to spending much of his time in a chair.
“I liked my job at the PPA. I got to meet so many people,” he said. “I was outside, I was walking a lot, I was feeling great. It’s been a very strange change.”
To help him cope, he said his friends and family members will visit and even come by to “kidnap” him to get him out of the house for a few hours of fun.
That support, Bruner said, has been wonderful.
The two said they hope to see many more supporters at the “AJ’s Angels” beef-and-beer fundraiser. They said Polonia Hall is a special place for them — they were married there, and Hites’s sister celebrated her wedding there as well, on Saint Patrick’s Day.
“I was told to be in a wheelchair, but I was walking with a cane that day,” Hite said, and added that he told his doctor “nicely” that he wouldn’t be in a wheelchair for his sister’s wedding. “I was a little stubborn,” he admitted.
He said at the end of the night, friends brought a rolling computer chair into the hall so Hite could take to the dance floor to celebrate.
Moments like that, he said, keep him positive in the face of such an uncertain and sometimes frightening future.
“It’s very hard, but then again life’s hard. You just have to wake up and get going. This is the hand I’ve been dealt,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll win.”
Those interested in attending the “AJ’s Angels” beef-and-beer can contact Ashley (267–432–0180), or AJ’s parents Patricia Hite (215–743–1469) or Al Hite (215–459–2214), to purchase a $25 ticket to the benefit or simply make a donation.
Also, check out the event on Facebook — search for “Beef and beer for AJ Hite.”
Star Managing Editor Mikala Jamison can be reached at 215–354–3113 or at