January 17 was a particularly special day for Tom Mecke. It was his 50th birthday, and he had beaten a pretty long set of odds to get there.
Mecke, a San Antonio, Texas, resident all his life, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). He and his parents got the news that he has the disease when he was 6 years old. They also were told he’d probably die before he turned 20.
“Seems like every time I thought I was at the end, I’ve lived another 10 years!” Mecke says. “I think longevity is partly a family trait, partly keeping my mind busy and just being plain hardheaded. A major factor is also the untiring efforts my parents have put into my care. With DMD you need to do everything you possibly can do, for as long as you can, and never stop dreaming and hoping.”
Mecke had dreams and hopes, and he’s done a lot with them.
One of seven siblings, he cruised right through high school, graduating 60th in a class of 900, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Texas A&M University.
Southwestern Bell, the company that had offered him summer work right out of high school, also hired him full-time as an engineer, and he worked in various aspects of computers and information technology until he retired in 1997.
He didn’t quit working though. His company, Mecke & Associates (www.meckeai.com), designs websites, builds custom computer systems and upgrades existing PCs.
MDA long ago recognized Tom Mecke’s drive and talents. When he was 10, MDA named him its “Poster Boy” (now known as Goodwill Ambassador) for South Texas. In 1992, the year MDA started its Personal Achievement Award (PAA) program, Mecke was selected as South Texas PAA honoree, and in 2007 he was named PAA recipient for the entire state.
Mecke lives with his parents, now in their 80s, and has caregivers drop by in the morning and evening.
“I use a power wheelchair, PLV-100 volume ventilator noninvasively [no tracheostomy], and I have a PEG feeding tube. Those keep me moving and healthy. It’s my computer that keeps me creative and in contact with people,” he says.
“I have a Windows-based computer with Dragon Naturally Speaking to control the computer by voice. This allows me to send e-mail, browse the Web, create Web pages, maintain Web servers, maintain websites, edit pictures and video, create CDs and DVDs — just about anything you can use a computer for. For the telephone, I use Skype’s SkypeOut/In feature with the same wireless mic I control the computer with.”
That may seem like a full plate of endeavors for just one person, but for Mecke it’s only part of a day’s work. A dedicated MDA supporter, he single-handedly launches a fundraiser every year, just in time for MDA’s Telethon on the Labor Day weekend.
In 2007, he raised $14,080 in donations from friends and acquaintances. In 2008, the total was $15,050, and in 2009 it topped out at $15,495.
There’s just no stopping this hard-charging 50-year old.