At 59, she got college degree - now she battles ALS

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At 59, Kathryn Manginelli got a college degree from NCCU. Now, she faces a new challenge - ALS.

A college graduate at age 59, Kathryn Manginelli just received her criminal justice degree at North Carolina Central University. But as she worked for that diploma, she was diagnosed with ALS.

It's a disease our ABC11 family is very familiar with - our friend and colleague Larry Stogner passed away from it last year.

Now, it has changed the lives of Kathryn and her family. The diagnosis is hitting her husband hard.

"I felt like I literally floated up to the ceiling and was looking down on two people that have just been given a death sentence," Kathryn's husband, Joe Manginelli said.

"Totally numb, absolutely ... numb," he added. "I grabbed Kathryn as tight as I could."

His wife may have only two to five years left to live, and Joe says Kathryn is taking this bull by the horns -- or rather by her new set of wheels.

"I've resigned myself to the fact that I have it," Kathryn said, sitting in a pink electric wheelchair.

More than 5,600 people in the US are diagnosed with the illness every year according to the ALS Association.

Through this tough battle, Kathryn finds time to laugh - talking about her love for Mickey Mouse, and what the two are slowly starting to share in common.

"It's funny how you know what Mickey wants even though he doesn't speak to you," Kathryn said to Joe.

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"She could fool the best of us when you sit and you talk," Joe said, taking a deep breath, choking back tears. "Positive, as is most people that got this horrible disease."

The couple moved here from New York to reinvent themselves - their plans for the future now focused on completing Kathryn's bucket list. One goal? Helping people who are becoming handicapped for the first time.

"The hardest part of my disease is giving up independence," Kathryn said with a deep frown.

"I can't dress myself. I can't just jump in the car and say 'oh I want to go to Starbucks.' "

As ALS steals her mobility, Joe's guilt grows, but he tries to stay focused on these precious moments.

"Am I just working, waiting for the time that she's lying in bed and she's just bedridden?" he wondered aloud.

LEARN MORE: STOGNER STRONG - WALK TO DEFEAT ALS

For now, Kathryn isn't letting anything stop her from achieving her final dream - creating a positive change in this world - like fundraising through the Walk to Defeat ALS.

"Hounding people relentlessly on Facebook," she said. "They probably can't wait for it to be over."

On top of raising more than $5,000 for the Walk to Defeat ALS, she has plans to head to the nation's capital next month to fight for more research funding.

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