Oct. 20 2010 12:00 AM

Benefit, T-shirt help Craig Oster fight for life

Craig Oster can’t help being a clinical psychologist.

Under heavy siege from a disease that eats away at his nerves and muscles, Oster isn’t strong enough to see clients in his office anymore.

So today, he’s sitting in his Haslett apartment, looking down at his chest and analyzing his T-shirt.

The shirt, designed by artist and caricature virtuoso Dennis Preston, shows Oster lifting a huge barbell, face scrunching with effort.

“I feel like Dennis captured so much,” Oster said.

Oster’s speech is labored, but he’s patient as rock and persistent as water. With help from his girlfriend, Michelle Dengeldey, the thoughts from the probing analyst’s mind beamed from his tortured body.

“On the one hand, it looks humorous, but he really seemed to capture some of the agony of the soul,” Oster said.

“Maybe unwittingly, Dennis is tricking people into looking at something they’d rather not look at.”

The “Dr. Craig” T-shirt will be officially unveiled at a benefit concert Saturday.

shirt and concert will raise money to help Oster keep up his
long-running fight with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, known as
Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Oster was told in 1994, at age 30, he had a disease that kills most people within five years.

Last month, he bench-pressed 110 pounds.

“I’m not sure it was a good idea,” he said with a grin. “It took me a couple of days to recover.”

eyes radiate lifeforce. Even his bathroom is a shrine to positive
energy. It’s plastered with inspirational mottos, pictures of crackling
energy spheres and images of Jesus Christ, eyes aglow.

The most inspiring icon in the john is a photo of a Toyota Prius next to the toilet paper roll.

Oster hopes — no, expects — to recover his muscle and motor skills to the point where he’s the behind the wheel of a real one.

why not? Oster was kicked out of hospice at Sparrow Hospital in 2008
when he showed no sign of shuffling off this mortal coil.

He credits a rigorous exercise program, a high-alkaline raw foods diet, and, most of all, a positive mindset.

where it’s at,” he said.

Typing painfully with one finger, Craig set up
a website where he shares morale-building ideas with other ALS

This summer, he has
hooked up with two other researchers with the goal of writing formal
papers on role of psychology in disease.

Oster admits it’s a controversial topic. Many people, he said, think it’s “cruel” to link psychology and healing.

“They fear people will blame themselves for not getting better,” he said.

He was quick to add that psychology is one factor among many.

genetics, and environmental toxins,” he said. “All these things play a
role. But right now, for my own case study, I believe they all interact
with psychological factors.”

His professorial discourse came between swigs from a water bottle Dingeldey brought to Oster’s mouth.

“You’re not going to write about my drinking problem, are you?” he cracked.

eyes watered with emotion when he talked about friends like the
musicians who will play at Saturday’s benefit and Preston, who donated
his talent to design the shirt.

hope he sells a lot of them,” Preston said. “He’s a fighter. It’s one
of those things you see movies made about. You want to see this guy

On the shirt, Oster wears his trademark wool cap.

one really knows the reason behind it,” Oster said, with the twinkle in
his eye of a man who is about to give a newspaper an exclusive.

times a week, Oster powers through agonizing workouts at the Sparrow
rehab gym. When he goes to the bathroom, his trainer, Mike Akin, holds
him steady at the urinal.

When Akin lifts Oster
in and out of his wheelchair, he momentarily steadies Oster’s forehead
against the wall. The hat protects Oster’s head, but it’s also become
the sartorial trademark of “Dr. Craig.”

Preston wanted it on the shirt.

“I thought it was cool,” Preston said.

“It reminded me of Rocky, running up the steps.”

2010 Craig Oster Music Extravaganza Fundraiser

Root Doctor, Virginia Lyric’lee Anderson, Matt Bliton’s,
everlovingmind, Jimmy G and the Capitols, and the Scorching Hot Blues
Band. 3:30-10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23. Perspective2 Studios, 319 Grand River
Ave., Lansing. (517) 482-5700