The toll of ALS

It seems that every month, an organization that represents a particular disease or health condition makes an effort to raise awareness and funds to support their mission.

Events are planned. Canvassers hit the streets. Media campaigns are launched. And everyone hopes the public will open up their hearts and wallets to help out.

It can sometimes seem overwhelming to people, with several months of the year designated as periods of time to focus on any one disease. Each cause is of course worthy in and of itself, and there’s no doubt all deserve financial support. And in a perfect world, all would have the resources they need to pour funding into the latest research and a range of support services for those impacted.

This month, a walk for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is planned for June 18 in Red Deer. Commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the legendary baseball player who developed it in the late 1930s, it’s now termed ALS.

The condition wasn’t as clearly understood back then, but currently ALS is described as a fatal neurodegenerative disease.

As Gehrig’s debilitation became worse (he stumbled over curbs, fumbled with the baseball, and even slipped and fell while running bases), his wife Eleanor called the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The couple arrived there in June of 1939 and after six days of testing, the diagnosis was made on June 19 – Lou Gehrig’s 36th birthday.

The prognosis was grim: rapidly increasing paralysis, difficulty in swallowing and speaking and a life expectancy of less than three years, although there would be no impairment of mental functions. That is no doubt one of the most cruel characteristics of this disease. The condition has been described as being trapped inside one’s body. Watching and observing the world around you while your body shuts down.

People living with the disease become progressively paralyzed due to degeneration of the upper and lower motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord.

ALS has no known cure or effective treatment yet. For every person diagnosed, a person living with ALS dies. About 2,500 – 3,000 Canadians currently live with this disease.

In spite of initially being named after a sports celebrity, the disease hasn’t seemed to capture the level of familiarity with the public that other illnesses have. Or, people may have heard about Lou Gehrig but have little knowledge about the illness itself.

It’s certainly time to change that. Local folks representing the ALS Society hope that with increasing numbers of events throughout the year there are plenty of opportunities to bolster awareness. Hopefully, the public will take note and sign on to support those afflicted by such a cruel disease.