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Concord High School Principal Gene Connolly in his office on Thursday. (MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER)

Battling ALS, Concord High principal will stay on 'as long as I possibly can'

CONCORD — The principal at Concord High School announced on Wednesday that he has ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and he will remain on the job as long as he can.

Gene Connolly, 58, said the diagnosis was confirmed this week at the Lahey Clinic in Massachusetts.

In an open letter sent to the Concord High School community on Wednesday, Connolly said it is important to let people know what he is dealing with.

“I love my job here,” he wrote, “and will continue to work and be part of this great community for as long as I possibly can.”

Connolly said Thursday that responses have been 100 percent positive since his announcement.

He said he couldn’t imagine not working at the school he has led for 12 years. He said he continues to run three miles each morning, and a slowed speech is the only symptom he’s experienced.

“I can do tons of stuff. I don’t feel tired, I feel great,” he said. “I’ve got a lot left.”

He said he will leave once he loses stamina.

Concord Schools Superintendent Christine Rath quickly followed the announcement with one of her own.

“We fully support Gene’s plans and look forward to another very successful year at CHS,” Rath wrote in an email.

ALS, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, is a progressive and fatal neuromuscular disease with no known cure or cause. Its most common victims are men over the age of 60, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Just this week, the CDC released its first-ever report about the prevalence of ALS in the United States. The report, which relied on national databases, found 12,187 people across the country with a definitive ALS diagnosis and overall prevalence rate of 3.9 cases per 100,000 people.

Connolly said ALS does not affect the brain or involuntary muscles such as the heart and lungs. He said it attacks voluntary muscles, such as his jaw, which is the reason for his altered speech.

He decided to make the announcement because last spring, colleagues noticed his mispronunciation and slurring, he said. They kept asking if everything was all right, he said.

Connolly’s wife is a teacher in Hopkinton. His son teaches at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton; his daughter is part of Teach for America and is teaching at a school in St. Louis, Mo.

Concord High School is the home school to some 1,700 students from Concord and Deerfield. It also hosts a regional technology center that provides part-time classes to another 300 students.

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