This Waiter Helps a Customer With Huntington’s Disease Every Week

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on March 30, 2017
2 min read

In today’s hectic world, you don’t often see people taking time out of their day to help someone else out from the goodness of their heart -- let alone while they’re busy at work. But one waiter in Springfield, IL, does just that, every single Saturday.

Joe Thomas, a server at IHOP, goes above and beyond for a couple of his regular customers -- a husband and wife named Dale and Ma. Years ago, he noticed that Dale would patiently help his wife eat her breakfast, while his plate sat and grew cold, he tells One day, Thomas offered to help, saying, “I’ve got this.” 

Ever since, Thomas has helped Ma every Saturday while Dale eats, so the two can enjoy breakfast together. “We go way back,” Thomas tells Today. “They’re a beautiful couple.”

The reason why Ma has trouble eating on her own: She has Huntington’s disease, a genetic disorder that breaks down nerve cells in the brain. It can cause a person to lose the ability to think rationally, walk, and speak. Other symptoms include personality changes, mood swings, depression, forgetfulness, involuntary movements, slurred speech, and difficulty swallowing.  

“One of the earliest symptoms of Huntington’s disease is a loss of coordination,” says Michael Smith, MD, WebMD’s chief medical editor. “Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult to control movements, and ordinary activities, such as holding a fork and feeding yourself, become impossible.” 

As the disease progresses, the family often has to step in to provide complete care for the person, as Dale has done. “The stress of being a caregiver often leads to anxiety and exhaustion,” Smith says. That’s why even a few minutes of relief to enjoy a relaxing breakfast can make such a difference in the life of someone caring for a chronically sick loved one. 

Turns out, Thomas is especially well-suited to lend a helping hand to others. He has worked as a rehab technician, helping disabled people live more independently, and also took care of his late mother, who had diabetes. 

The heartwarming photo of Thomas helping Ma went viral after a customer posted it on the restaurant’s Facebook page. In the caption, Keshia Dotson writes, “My faith in humanity has been restored a little today.” She has since added an update from Dale and Ma, who thanked everyone for their kind words -- over 500 people have commented on the photo -- and say they’re thrilled that Thomas is getting “the recognition he deserves.” Dale also hopes this opportunity will help raise awareness of Huntington’s disease.