Bridesburg pair bravely faces the unknown together

In the face of an un­cer­tain and fright­en­ing health is­sue, Brides­burg's AJ Hite turns to his wife Ash­ley, his fam­ily, and the com­munity for sup­port and com­fort.

AJ Hite and his wife Ash­ley said they are stick­ing to­geth­er, in sick­ness and in health. In the young Brides­burg couple’s case, their com­mit­ment is now more mean­ing­ful than ever. 

The two made that vow four years ago, and are now mak­ing good on it, to­geth­er, as Hite awaits an of­fi­cial dia­gnos­is of just what’s brought on the falls and near-chron­ic leg pain he’s ex­per­i­enced since Novem­ber last year.

Hite, 27, a Phil­adelphia Park­ing Au­thor­ity of­ficer—now on fam­ily med­ic­al leave un­til Ju­ly 3—said he’s been told that a likely dia­gnos­is at this point is ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease.

“We’ve put our faith back in God. There are days we both have a dif­fi­cult time be­cause we don’t know what’s go­ing on,” Hite said. “But you just have to keep mov­ing and keep pos­it­ive, and don’t let the out­look of ‘what could hap­pen’ hap­pen.”

He and Ash­ley Hite (n&ea­cute;e Bru­ner), 26, dur­ing a June 15 in­ter­view at their Garden Street home, sat to­geth­er as their jet-black kit­ten pranced among packed card­board boxes—the couple has to soon move in with Bru­ner’s fath­er, right next door, as they are now un­able to con­tin­ue rent­ing their home due to Hite’s med­ic­al bills.

To help off­set some of the mount­ing costs of Hite’s tests and treat­ment, his fam­ily and Bru­ner’s have ar­ranged for a beef-and-beer be­ne­fit called “AJ’s An­gels,” to take place June 29 from 7 to 11 p.m. at Po­lo­nia Hall, at 4431 Bel­grade St.

Hite said that it’s a bless­ing to have the sup­port of his and his wife’s fam­il­ies, but the road lead­ing to this still un­cer­tain place has been a rough one.

He said that in Novem­ber 2011, he began feel­ing pain in his legs, and in early Decem­ber he star­ted fall­ing in the shower and on stairs.

Hite vis­ited his fam­ily doc­tor later in Decem­ber for a test in which the doc­tor poked his legs with needles—he couldn’t feel any­thing.

After more test­ing, doc­tors ruled out lupus and mul­tiple scler­osis (MS), and in April, he began ALS test­ing.

He is now a pa­tient of Dr. Terry Hei­man-Pat­ter­son at the ALS Hope Found­a­tion clin­ic at Hahne­mann Uni­versity Hos­pit­al. He won’t un­der­go more test­ing or po­ten­tially know of a dia­gnos­is un­til Septem­ber.

“Some days, I don’t get out of bed, oth­er days it’s a dull pain or no pain,” Hite said. “But I can’t walk without canes or my walk­er, and some days I’m in a wheel­chair.”

Hite ex­plained that there is no cure for ALS, and that there is only one drug that slows down the ad­vance­ment of the dis­ease, one he said in most cases take pa­tients’ lives with­in five years. He said if he were dia­gnosed, he’d be­come a “guinea pig” for treat­ments.

“We have faith that if it is [ALS], I’ll be the one that would be cured,” he said.

Hite said his faith ex­tends to the faith he has in his wife.

“She is a very strong wo­man. I don’t know where she gets it from, but she is one of the strongest people I know,” he said, and ad­ded that Bru­ner’s fath­er is cur­rently bat­tling Stage IV pro­state can­cer. “It makes me very happy to know that I have found some­body that will be there.”

Bru­ner, who works at Po­lice and Fire Fed­er­al Cred­it Uni­on on Arch Street as well as at Ida Mae’s res­taur­ant in Fishtown, is now shoul­der­ing the pair’s fin­an­cial bur­dens, and provides her hus­band with daily care.

“There are no sick days, there is no ‘I don’t feel like do­ing this,’” she said of sup­port­ing her hus­band. “When you take care of some­body, that is your job. It’s my job to take care of him. I do what I have to do.”

Hite, who worked as an EMT be­fore tak­ing the PPA job, said that it’s been jar­ring to go from walk­ing around the city’s streets to spend­ing much of his time in a chair.

“I liked my job at the PPA. I got to meet so many people,” he said. “I was out­side, I was walk­ing a lot, I was feel­ing great. It’s been a very strange change.”

To help him cope, he said his friends and fam­ily mem­bers will vis­it and even come by to “kid­nap” him to get him out of the house for a few hours of fun.

That sup­port, Bru­ner said, has been won­der­ful.

The two said they hope to see many more sup­port­ers at the “AJ’s An­gels” beef-and-beer fun­draiser. They said Po­lo­nia Hall is a spe­cial place for them—they were mar­ried there, and Hites’s sis­ter cel­eb­rated her wed­ding there as well, on Saint Patrick’s Day.

“I was told to be in a wheel­chair, but I was walk­ing with a cane that day,” Hite said, and ad­ded that he told his doc­tor “nicely” that he wouldn’t be in a wheel­chair for his sis­ter’s wed­ding. “I was a little stub­born,” he ad­mit­ted.

He said at the end of the night, friends brought a rolling com­puter chair in­to the hall so Hite could take to the dance floor to cel­eb­rate.

Mo­ments like that, he said, keep him pos­it­ive in the face of such an un­cer­tain and some­times fright­en­ing fu­ture.

“It’s very hard, but then again life’s hard. You just have to wake up and get go­ing. This is the hand I’ve been dealt,” he said. “Hope­fully, I’ll win.”

Those in­ter­ested in at­tend­ing the “AJ’s An­gels” beef-and-beer can con­tact Ash­ley (267-432-0180), or AJ’s par­ents Pa­tri­cia Hite (215-743-1469) or Al Hite (215-459-2214), to pur­chase a $25 tick­et to the be­ne­fit or simply make a dona­tion.

Also, check out the event on Face­book—search for “Beef and beer for AJ Hite.”

Star Man­aging Ed­it­or Mi­kala Jam­is­on can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at


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