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South Jersey Man Fighting ALS Thanks Strangers For Help

ATCO, N.J.,  (CBS) -- A South Jersey man is fighting for his life, after a crippling disease took control. The union health insurance he counted on just recently changed, and now he's thanking complete strangers for opening their pockets to help give him another day.

"That ventilator over there, if you take that off, I stop breathing, plain and simple," Joe Swider told Eyewitness News.

Life these days isn't easy for 66-year-old Swider. The father of four and grandfather of 11 spends his days confined to a chair in the corner of his living room. He's hoping to live as long as possible.

"I'm pretty much stable from the neck up. From the neck down it is what it is," he said.

Swider was once an active man. A Phillies fan since birth, he went to spring training in Florida one year with the team. His life changed in 2012, and fast.

"I would go to pick up like a pencil, and I'd drop it," he said.

He rushed to meet with doctors.

"The only thing I knew about ALS at the time was Lou Gehrig had it and Lou Gehrig died from it," he said.

ALS is a rare disease that cripples the body. There is no known cause or cure for the disease, and it affects around 6,000 people a year. The news was devastating for the man who loved to build things.

"Plumbing was my job but carpentry was my love," Swider said.

Swider joined his union back in 1979 and he had full healthcare when he retired in 2006. When he was diagnosed with ALS, he had around the clock nursing care. Swider and his wife, Donna, received another blow last summer, when they found out his union was changing the policy for retirees, and his specific skilled nursing needs were no longer covered.

"It's absolutely crushing," Donna Swider told Eyewitness News.

Donna Swider has no nursing degree, but works 10 hours a day, then comes home to care for her husband.

"Without any nursing care, all this goes away, because now it's a safety issue," he said.

The Swiders took the matter to federal court hoping to keep his plan in place, but they lost. The judge ruled that his union did nothing illegal by simply switching health plans. Now the family is counting on a Go Fund Me page, not just to help Swider, but to keep him alive.

"Half the people we don't even know who they are. They're just strangers donating toward this which is very humbling," he said.

Swider needs skilled nursing care 24 hours a day, and it adds up to about $5,000 dollars a week. The current total on the Go Fund Me page will keep Joe alive through the end of March.

"It's not right. It just not fair to have the disease and to have this on top of it," Donna Swider said.

Currently, Swider is under a Medicare supplement plan that doesn't take care of the nursing needs. Eyewitness News did not hear back from the union or attorney representing the union. For more information about Joe Swider, you can click here.

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