PHOENIX — Back when the country was dumping buckets of ice on each other to raise millions for ALS, John Driskell Hopkins admits he didn’t even know what ALS was - now years later, he’s opening up about his recent diagnosis.
“Even when I was diagnosed, I was like ‘that’s really bad, right?’” he said.
John is the founding member of the Zac Brown Band, his second family. He's also a husband and father of three young girls in his home state of Atlanta, Georgia.
So, when the guitarist and singer noticed he struggled to walk down the stairs without a handrail, jump like he once did on stage, or keep tempo with the fast-paced bluegrass picking, he began to think it was related to his cholesterol medication.
“It’s this thing,” he said moving his index, middle finger, and thumb. You got to get fast with these three fingers, and then I wasn’t.”
He went to several doctors for testing where he eventually learned he had ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the nervous system disease that weakens muscles and impacts physical function.
There is no cure.
According to the CDC, there are about 12,000 to 15,000 people in the United States with ALS.
In a video posted on YouTube with his band and family standing behind him, John said ”God willing, I plan to be rocking with these amazing people for years to come.”
The band reacted to the news by launching, ‘Hop on a Cure,’ a foundation to raise funds to find a cure for ALS.
When he shared the news with his three little girls, he said he was playing volleyball when he tripped on a piece of concrete. He took the time to explain why he’s been struggling with his stability and dexterity.
”Their questions were, could you die? Could you be in a wheelchair, and the answer to both of those is yes,” he said.
The uncertainty of not knowing what the future holds led to tears, but John says the symptoms came slow – so he expects he has plenty of time to keep doing what he loves most. That’s being a family man and a baseball fan.
In front of a Memorial Day crowd, John sang the national anthem at Chase Field, and you bet, he plans to be back here with his second family when they perform in November.
“No one is promised tomorrow, we all have to live our best lives every day,” he said.