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Man loses 20-year fight with disease

Most people with Lou Gehrig's disease die within five years. Vincent Gagliardo survived for two decades.

The battle for life has ended for Vincent Gagliardo.

Stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nerve cells commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease, he prevailed for 20 years.

His disease kills most people quickly. Only 10 percent of those who get it live longer than five years.

Mr. Gagliardo, who spent 16 years in a bed in a small, white room at the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines listening to a machine that breathed for him, died Tuesday (Sept. 12, 2000). He was 63.

Year after year, he lay immobile, able to see the sky out the window, the television mounted high on the wall and the bulletin board that held pictures of his daughter and of the children of the nurses who took care of him.

He could move only his eyes and make slight shakes of his head. He could not speak.

Daily in his mind, which still functioned as it always did, he often went over the events of his life _ his football days at St. Petersburg High, his history studies at Florida State, his military and civil service career, his marriage and the birth and growth of his only daughter, Catherine "Cathy" Gagliardo.

For a St. Petersburg Times story in March 1996 about his life and the disease that he fought, he used a special board that helped him communicate. Moving his eyes, he spelled to a reporter: "It is my life. It is my choice."

Andrew Vincent "Vince" Gagliardo was born in Chicago and moved with his family when he was 8 to St. Petersburg, where he grew up. After military and civil service careers took him around the world, he returned to St. Petersburg in 1980.

Knowing that he was dying, he sought a place to settle with his wife, Yong Suk, and their 8-year-old daughter.

Mr. Gagliardo was a contract analyst for the Defense Department, stationed in Seoul, South Korea, when he met his wife.

Survivors include his wife of 30 years, his daughter and a sister, Rosalie Obergon, all of St. Petersburg.

A memorial Mass will be at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in Our Lady's Chapel at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle, St. Petersburg. Burial will be at Bay Pines National Cemetery.

The family suggests memorial contributions to the ALS Association National Office, 27001 Agoura Road, Suite 150, Calabasas Hills, CA 91301-5104.

E. Dale Gunter Funeral Home & Cremation Services is in charge of arrangements.

_ Information from Times files was used in this obituary.