Against all odds
An MSU alumnus is spreading a message of hope after living with a debilitating disease for 16 years
There aren’t many people who can say they graduated from hospice care. But MSU alumnus Craig Oster is one of the few who can declare they did.
In 1994, at age 30, Oster was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Since his diagnosis with the disease, which attacks the nerve cells leading to one’s brain and spine and causes loss of voluntary muscles, Oster has spent 16 years fighting a disease that generally claims patients’ lives within five years.
Recently, Oster entered Oprah Winfrey’s “Your Own Show: Oprah’s Search For the Next TV Star,” with the hope he would one day be able to share his journey of healing with the world.
Winfrey’s contest allows viewers to upload short audition video’s to myown.oprah.com. Viewers are allowed to vote as many times as desired on the video they believe deserves a show.
Voting is scheduled to end July 3.
“I have a dream of inspiring millions,” Oster said. “They will learn that there are more possibilities. I want people to know how to handle difficult situations.”
Oster said he believes he can bring something to the table few others can — a look at what many people have been calling impossible for 16 years.
“I (want) to be able to tell everyone about the principles involved in healing — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually,” Oster said. “I want them to find the power within them and to find healing and find hope.”
In 1996, two years after his diagnosis with ALS, Oster earned his doctorate degree in philosophy at MSU. He went on to become a clinical psychologist and pursue his passion for psychotherapy.
Following his formal education, Oster underwent years of psychoanalysis to help himself, as well as others, understand the inner workings of their unconscious mind. Oster said he uses these studies to further accept reality — be it good or bad.
“I have a deep understanding of how to accept reality no matter how horrible it is, and people need help with that,” he said. “When I look around the world, I see so, so many people complaining about reality, but when you argue with reality it doesn’t get you anywhere. It only causes you pain.”
Chris Sovey, who recorded and edited Oster’s audition tape for Winfrey’s contest as well as other films documenting his progress with ALS, said it is Oster’s resolve that keeps him going.
“His constant determination against incredible odds — that illness is so debilitating, and I think very few human beings would go through something he’s gone through and be able to stand up to that fear,” Sovey said. “(To) go through such a debilitating illness and be able to defy all odds.”
Prior to being admitted to hospice, Oster was on a strict exercise routine, spending two and a half hours, three days a week with a trainer at the gym.
“He was at the point of being in hospice and he could barely breathe,” Sovey said. “But he was really determined to make it through that.”
After losing 45 pounds of muscle and spending six months in the care of hospice, Oster was released in 2008 when his health stopped declining. Oster slowly got back to his old regiment, pairing rigorous workouts with a monitored diet.
Oster said he lends some of his success to a very specific high-alkaline diet of only raw foods.
“Every spoonful that goes into my mouth is deeply full of nourishment for healing and rebuilding my body,” he said.
Michelle Dingeldey, Oster’s girlfriend and Grand Rapids resident, said in the time since leaving hospice and getting back on his routine of exercise and healthy eating, the results were obvious. She said she could see Oster getting healthier week after week.
“What he’s accomplished with his body and mind in the last 10 months is incredible. You just hope that stays with him,” Dingeldey said.“(You hope) that he’s going to be like that in another six months, or a year, but … you don’t know what this disease is going to do to him.”
Dingeldey said should Oster win Oprah’s contest, the show would be a good step in educating people about a disease very few know anything about.
“(People) ask me ‘Can he use his hands?’, ‘Can he walk?’, ‘Can he get out of the wheelchair?’ I get a lot of questions,” Dingeldey said.
Although it has been difficult to medically pinpoint what has been key to keeping Oster healthy for longer than a majority of patients with ALS, those around him agree that keeping a positive attitude is key on his road to recovery.
“He’s really positive,” daytime caregiver Hira Al-Amin said. “We have to always look inside for our inner strength, and he lives that every day.”
Al-Amin said it’s this positive outlook that will make Oster’s show a success if he gets the chance to follow through with it. She said his ability to look on the bright side, not only as a role model for those who tune in, but an inspiration for people going through other difficult situations.
“If I have a problem or there is something I’m thinking about, I can just be in his presence,” Al-Amin said. “Knowing possibly what he’s feeling and what he’s dealt with and just the way he handles himself, never complaining, always looking on the brightside, always positive, always laughing. It’s just kind of infectious.”
Oster believes his story is one that can make him a role model for viewers if he wins his own show through Winfrey’s contest, but said he can’t do so without the help of the people in his community.
“I’m very humbly asking the whole community to get behind me,” Oster said. “I’ve been fighting my fight for 16 years, and now I’m hungry to share (my) feelings with millions, and if the community helps me, they will also help millions.”
To view Oster’s audition video for the “Your Own Show: Oprah’s Search For the Next TV Star” contest, click here.