Christmas came early for a Mesa police officer and his family at the Red Mountain District police station on Wednesday.
Much to the surprise of officer Mark Kelly, he was presented with a Ford E-450 Super Duty handicapped-accessible Shuttle Van to better help him and his large family as he tries to maintain his mobility while fighting a terminal neurological illness.
After Kelly and his wife, Elizabeth, watched their four sons - Bryan, Harley, Hyrum and Bryce, ages 18 months through 8, receive presents such as a Tonka police cruiser, a Hot Wheels Train Station and a purple Mongoose bicycle from a Santa dressed in blue, they were led outside to receive the vehicle.
Kelly, 31, who has worked for the Mesa Police Department for four years and was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in April, received the van as a gift from the Mesa Police Association's officers assistance fund as many members of his family and colleagues looked on.
"It's just like Christmas morning," Mark Kelly said. "I had no idea it would be something like this. I was told yesterday just to be at the station by 4:30, and there would be a Santa here dressed in blue."
The police union held a number of fundraisers for the Kelly family in recent months and were able to purchase the van from a Valley company that recently went out of business, according to Stacey Dillon, a spokeswoman for the Mesa Police Association.
"We decided that this police family was the one most in need, and in this particular case, there's been an outpouring of community support," said Fabian Cota, president of the Mesa Police Association. "This is the kind of stuff that makes our day."
The Kelly family had been given a passenger van by a relative, but with Kelly confined to a wheelchair, the smaller-size van was difficult for the family to travel in, said Mark's older brother, Mike Kelly.
"This van is going to be a savior for everybody and a blessing," Mike Kelly said.
ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease after the Hall of Fame slugger from the 1920s and 30s who gave the illness notoriety, is a terminal neurological disorder that destroys the nerve connections between muscles and the brain. As the disease progresses, patients lose the ability to control their muscles and eventually cannot walk, speak, swallow or breathe. Kelly only has about 15 percent use of his right hand.
Yet Kelly, a 1997 graduate of Mesa High School, remains on the job at the Red Mountain District station, answering phone calls and taking reports, and also partially works from home.
Elizabeth, who is expecting the couple's fifth child, also said the family was grateful for the gifts and the vehicle.
"It's overwhelming," she said. "We're so thankful. It's an amazing gift. I don't know how to describe it. It's such a surprise."