Six and a half years ago, Airdronian Jodie Cayley heard devastating news. Cayley had made an appointment for her then three-and-half-year-old son Alex, who wasn't hitting his developmental milestones. Her first thoughts were that her little boy may have had a muscular issue with his legs. 

However, doctors would diagnose Alex with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). 

"I still tear up when I talk about it. Up until that point, I didn't really know what muscular dystrophy was, [but after] we started reading up about what it was. It was devastating. We didn't have a family history and the more I read about it, it was heartbreaking." 

DMD is one of the more aggressive forms of muscular dystrophy, characterized by progressive muscle degeneration. According to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, it presents with progressive weakness and scoliosis, and can often result in problems with pulmonary function.  

A few weeks after her son's diagnosis in 2017, Cayley heard about the Airdrie Firefighters Rooftop Campout for Muscular Dystrophy. It struck a very real and very deep chord within her, and she wanted to become involved.  

"The more we can raise awareness and try to raise funds for research, the faster we can get more treatments and hopefully a cure one day. So, it's very, very important. I very much appreciate everything the firefighters do to put this on every year. It's awesome," she said. 

This year she will be appearing during the opening ceremonies on February 22 to speak about the realities of those living with the disease. Alex, who is now nine-and-half years old will also be at the event, and like any boy, he is excitedly looking forward to the rooftop campout. 

"He loves going and the firefighters are so great to him. [In previous years] they brought him up onto the roof and they have a boot that they swing over that people put their donations in and he's able to help with that. He thinks it's awesome." 

But as much joy as the event brings, Cayley also shared the painful moments she feels as a mother as the disease continues to weaken her son's body. Alex does use a wheelchair from time to time as he gets fatigued easily, and things like getting dressed are becoming more cumbersome.  

"One of the hardest parts is that he sees his friends able to do things that he's not able to do; running fast or climbing up on things - he's like any other kid, he wants to be able to do all those things and keep up," Cayley said. "Everyday things that you and I wouldn't even think are issues - are a very constant frustration for him; being able to open a door or walk upstairs. It really does affect every part of his day."  

Despite these challenges, Alex has still found a passion for hobbies, such as camping. His mother also said he has a soft spot for all animals and is a big fan of Lego and Minecraft.

But Cayley's family isn't the only one whose family has been impacted by Muscular Dystrophy. In fact, one of the city's firefighters who is the driving force behind this event, Andrew MacPherson, who is also the Charities President of Airdrie Firefighters Charitable Foundation, has seen first-hand how muscular dystrophy robs individuals of their independence. 

MacPherson's mother was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy nearly two decades ago. Just like when Cayley first heard her son's diagnosis, MacPherson also said hearing the news of his mom's illness was hard to digest.  

"Over time, it becomes harder because you see the effects over the years. The only saving grace, I guess you could say, is my mom has a less severe type of muscular dystrophy." 

After his mother's diagnosis, the rooftop campout took on an intensely personal meaning for him.

"It was the driving force... because of my mom. I wanted to do what I could to help with the campout," he said. 

MacPherson said that one of the most daunting things when he visits his 72-year-old mother, who lives back home in Nova Scotia, is seeing how time and the progression of muscular dystrophy impacts things, even simple things; things that he used to once do with his mother. 

"[We] can never go to a beach because uneven surfaces are a hard no." 

But despite this, MacPherson said his mother is still the most giving person he knows. In fact, even today she sends her son a stocking for Christmas every year.  

It is estimated that approximately upwards of 50,000 Canadians have muscular dystrophy, and though there are various treatments, there is no cure.  

On February 22, four Airdrie Firefighters will take to the roof of the Toad 'n' Turtle Pubhouse & Grill (1900 Market St) to brave the elements for 72 hours, before returning to the ground on February 25.

There will be a whole host of different activities and events during the four-day campout, all meant to bring awareness and spur locals to donate money so that one day those that hear the diagnosis of muscular dystrophy will have not only hope; but a cure.  

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