Warren woman faces ALS with faith, love


The vibrant and loving 45-year-old wife and mother of six was told by doctors last July that she has ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), better known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease".

Right then and there, her life took on a whole new meaning. Fear set in quickly, but her burden has been eased in the months since by an outpouring of love and support in Warren and in her home town, Bristol.

For those unfamiliar with it ALS, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

This diagnosis would be enough to send anyone into seclusion, but not Mrs. Swift, who like her aunt, the late Marie Rondeau of Bristol, fought as hard as anyone in her battle with pancreatic cancer several years earlier.

“I have God on my side,” she said, her strong religious upbringing showing its might. “He’s there for me. Whatever happens will be in his hands. But, I’m determined. With the support of my husband, Neil, my children, and my family and friends, I hope to beat this thing.”

Initially, Mrs. Swift, who lives on Kinnicutt Avenue in Warren, didn’t want all of the attention centered solely on her,  but rather, wanted to tell the world how important faith is in a time of crisis.

“Without my faith, I’d never be as strong as I am. My aunt, Marie, was the same way when she was fighting her battle with cancer. She never gave up. She knew the odds were against her, but her faith enabled her to be strong…right to the very end.”

“My aunt was a wise woman,” Mrs. Swift continued. “She was full of inspiration and strength. Knowing what I know now gives me the strength to prepare for what lies ahead.”

The Swifts received the news that she had Lou Gehrig’s disease on July 10, 2011, right after her birthday. It was a tough pill to swallow.

“My first reaction was fear,” she explained. “I had worked in a rehab facility and knew a man who had this disease 20 years ago, so I was familiar with it. I had muscle weakness in my leg prior to my diagnosis. I knew something wasn’t right. I started with muscle twitching. I was really fearful.”

She stresses that the strength and support of her family and friends is helping her cope with this dreaded disease.

“I don’t know what I’d do without all of them,” she said. “Everyone has been so kind and generous.”

You can help

Recently, a fundraiser was held in her behalf by the Under 14 Warren Soccer League, and on Sept. 8, “A Swift Cause” will be held at Jacky’s Galaxie in Bristol. The event is already sold out. Another Swift Cause event, the first annual Natalie Swift Golf Tournament, to benefit the Natalie Swift Foundation, will be held on Monday, Oct. 15, at the Crestwood Country Club in Rehoboth. For more information, contact Stephen at 524-0719 or email him at s.sampsonauto@yahoo.com. You can also call Dawn at 714-5473 or email her at swiftd61@cox.net.

“Natalie is such a special person,” said good friend Lia Benevides. “Along with being a wonderful mother and wife, she has been there for anyone who needs a kind word, a prayer, a hug, a laugh and a beautiful smile. And when it comes to karaoke, Barry Manilow has nothing on her — we've never laughed so hard.”

“Natalie's faith has always amazed us. In her words she is hoping for a miracle, but she has said if she doesn't get her miracle there's a bigger reason for her battle with ALS ... perhaps to bring family and friends together in God's name. We love Nat.”

Natalie Swift, at center, with her family.Mrs. Swift was born in Maryland and raised in Bristol. At the time she was diagnosed with ALS,  she was attending Salve Regina University in pursuit of a nursing degree. She is the daughter of Adam and Priscilla Baron of Bristol, and one of four children. She attended St. Philomena’s School and graduated from St. Mary Academy Bay View in 1986. She went on to receive a degree in sociology from Wheaton College in 1990, and worked in insurance in Boston. She also worked at the Charlesgate Nursing Center in Providence.

She has been married for 16 years to Neil Swift and has six children, ranging in age from 13 to 3. They are Nathan, 13, Luke, 12, Margaret, 10, Grace, 8, Thomas, 6, and Matthew, 3. She is a stay-at-home mom, while her husband oversees the operation of his own construction business, as well as the family business, Swift Results, on Market Street. The Swifts are faithful parishioners of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Bristol.

She has had a long road with medical tests, which began in September 2011 and finally ended almost a year later, when she was diagnosed with ALS. But through it all, Mrs. Swift has remained strong and devoted to her husband and family. She hasn’t shown any signs of giving up.

She’s thankful to God and to everyone who has shown their concern and support during these trying times. She walks with a short brace on her left leg and limps ever so slightly, but that hasn’t dampened her spirits.

“Neil and I are so humbled by the outpouring of affection, support, prayers, and love that we’ve received from everyone in Warren and Bristol and beyond,” she said. “I’m hoping for the best. It’s in God’s hands.”

Natalie is looking for a miracle. She said she will travel to Lourdes, France, (famous for the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes, said to have occurred in 1858 to Bernadette Soubirous), in September.

“We all believe in miracles,” she said, smiling. “I’m looking for just one.”


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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.