Fighting Irish: Kateryna Mogan

Confronted with the unfathomable, Kateryna Mogan talks openly about her family, faith and legacy of her husband Denny in light of his ALS diagnosis

Interview by Jonathan Westman
Photography courtesy The Mogans

How did you and Denny meet, and was it love at first sight? What was it about him that drew your interest?
Denny and I first met in early summer of 2005 in Ocean City. I can absolutely describe it as a love at first sight, as our relationship moved pretty quickly from then on. We moved in together by the end of that summer, were engaged by New Year and married on St. Patrick’s Day in March 2006. He was 25 and I was 21 then.

Denny’s confidence was always the most appealing to me and I think to everyone around him. When I say confidence, I really mean that he is comfortable in his own skin and doesn’t try to be someone else to impress. He is the most genuine, caring, loyal and generous person I know. I always knew why I loved him, but with his recent diagnosis, it became evident that hundreds of other people feel the same. If you were to interview his friends, family and people he was in contact with in different stages of his life, they will all say the same: Denny is the most genuine guy out there.

What are some of your fondest memories together with Denny?
There are so many. Denny loves life, and anything he has ever done, he’s done with his whole heart. No taking shortcuts. No taking the easy road. Due to our busy schedules and his insane working hours, we haven’t taken big trips throughout the years (always thought we will have more time later), but what we did were two- to three-day getaways, which he made so much fun, first for me and then for our boys. He planned, researched and booked in advance, so we could have the best experience ever. This is what Denny is all really about — making others feel better!

What are three characteristics of Denny that define him as a person?
Honest. Hardworking. Family-comes-first kind of guy!

The Mogan family — Denny, Kateryna, Michael (front right) and Jack.

Please share how proud you are of him for bringing his dream of owning a restaurant to life.
As long as I can remember, Denny always wanted a place of his own. The idea for Mogan’s Oyster House was forming and evolving in his mind for years. We had some previous opportunities to open a place, but it never seemed right. Denny knew that he would have one shot, and it had to be right. He always put his family first, and taking a huge risk was not something he was not taking lightly. I am beyond-words-proud of his hard work… sleepless nights, planning and researching, with a full day of work ahead. He is determined and hardworking but humble to a fault. Words cannot describe how proud we are for everything he accomplished in his life.


When did you first start seeing signs of a potential problem with Denny? When did those signs become troubling, and what was the process of achieving a diagnosis?
During the summer of 2019, we started noticing some speech slurring, but he was working 12- to 16-hour days at this point. He was stressed and exhausted, so we were not panicked yet. Together we saw various specialists, did everything possible, including scans and blood tests to eliminate less-serious conditions. Seeing a neurologist was definitely something that we decided to do early on, but it turns out that as a new patient, it is impossible to be seen right away, either locally or across the bridge. There will be weeks when we will have two blood tests and two to three doctors’ appointments (sometimes in the same day). Did I mention that Denny was opening the restaurant of his dreams during all of this! When we finally saw a neurologist in Baltimore, who had mentioned the possibility of ALS, our world turned upside down. It was two more tests, which took almost two months to be scheduled and get results from, and an agonizing 10 weeks of waiting to get a formal diagnosis, which we received in March.


How are you doing? Can you take me through your day and share some things that you do to care for your Denny while taking care of your boys?
Our life changed tremendously due to Denny’s diagnosis but also due to COVID-19. Working from home allowed me to be with him throughout the day while still teaching full time. Our boys were out of school, as well, and we suddenly found ourselves together 24/7, which is something that our busy schedules never allowed before. In some way, I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.

In the months after his diagnosis, Denny went from slurring to completely losing the ability to speak, from breathing on his own to requiring assistance of a machine most of the time, from walking with a cane and a walker to loosing ability to use his legs completely. He is the most independent person I know, and loosing ability to express himself and to take care of his basic needs is the worst thing that can happen to a guy like him.

Our boys are adjusting, as well, and are okay, thanks to amazing support from our family and the entire community around us. People really came together to help. So many went above and beyond, from fixing our house to make it handicap accessible, taking care of our lawn and donating a van, to supporting our business, creating fundraisers (GoFundme, #MoganStrong), sending cards and checks and offering any help we might need. When I say we are blessed to have the most amazing community, I truly mean it.

The Mogans in the fall of 2019 as Denny’s restaurant, Mogan’s Oyster House, was about to open.

Will you be teaching from home this fall or taking a leave of absence?
As of right now, I am planning on teaching from home during Phase 1 of school reopening in Worcester County. COVID-19 certainly added to the challenges our family faces. The Worcester County Public Schools community has been very understanding about the increased risks of anyone in our family contracting and passing this virus.


Has there been an outpouring of support from the Snow Hill Middle School and Worcester County Public Schools communities? If so, how has that made you feel?
Denny and our family are very grateful for all the kind words and prayers shared with us.
So many people expressed their love, support and desire to help!


How are Michael (Mick) and Jack doing? How have you chosen to talk about Denny’s illness with them?
Our boys are adjusting to this new normal. I know that Denny and I continue showing them the true meaning of what it means to be a family. We love, support and help each other, and that’s what our boys see. They are mature beyond their ages (8 and 5) because they know they have to step up to this challenge. We are maximizing the time together and highlighting the things we still can do as a family. Denny is insistent on keeping their lives as normal as possible through all of this. Thanks to our family, we are able to this even during this difficult time.


Is there a local ALS support group that you and your family are working with? If so, how have they assisted you?
The local PRMC-ALS Clinic, and Sandy Yenilaitus, have been a great resource and support to us. They have provided us with resources, information and support that would otherwise require us traveling across the bridge more often. We are very grateful to have an ALS Chapter in Salisbury.


I know you are a family of strong faith. How has your connection with God guided you though this process?
Our family has very strong ties with Wicomico Presbyterian Church. In fact, Denny is an elected elder and a member of various committees. Our WPC family and pastor, Maggie Gillespie, are a great source of comfort for our family. Their constant prayers and generosity keeping us strong in face of this disease.


How rapidly is Denny’s ALS progressing? What is his current prognosis?
It is progressing pretty fast. His onset is called Bulbar ALS, which typically moves faster, as it effects breathing and swallowing first.


In the months and years to come, what do you think the legacy of Denny Mogan will be?
Denny Mogan created a reputation for himself based on his faith, hard work, integrity and being
a great father and husband. Our boys will grow up knowing this, as there will be reminders everywhere we go and from everyone we meet. We couldn’t have asked for a better example
to live by!

To donate to the Mogan family, visit Gofundme.com/denny-mogan-family-alslou-gehrigs-disease.