189 posts in the category “ALS”

“I try my best to make the most of each new day”– An interview with ALS member Brian

Posted January 22nd, 2016 by

Brian (Dunric) is a former game developer and has been living with ALS since 1998. Unable to find a local ALS support group where he lives in Lodi, CA, he discovered PatientsLikeMe in 2012.

In a recent interview, Brian opened up about dealing with the uncertainty of his condition the best way he knows how — with a sense of humor. Here’s what he had to say …

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m your average nerd who refuses to grow old, despite being 41 years old now. Diagnosed so many years ago and not having close family ties was rather trying on me. I’ve had my share of nursing home nightmares and some caregivers that made me feel like family.

Some of kids I’ve known and helped raise over the years now have children of their own. It seems like the world changes but I do not. I try my best to make the most of each new day, and it feels the proper way to accept life with ALS.

2. In your profile you write, “Many trials and tribulations of ALS have pushed me to limits that I have never thought of before.” Can you describe some of these experiences, and how your life has changed since your diagnosis? 

I have gone through some situations that doctors never thought I’d survive but the worst of it all was accepting the fact that ALS would be part of my future. Not really knowing just what was going to happen or expect. It’s that uncertainty that can drive anyone absolutely mad. Having once the illusion of absolute control and then having that revealed to me that control is an illusion was a very hard thing to accept.

There was a moment when I had my first PEG placed that the doctors (prefessionals as I call them) that I had informed them of feeling a “pop” sensation when PT wanted to have me sit up on the side of my hospital bed. Later that evening a licensed nurse had started a feeding session without checking patency. Hours later I had already had the beginning symptoms of Acute Peritonitis, all from the formula being introduced and me feeling a burning sensation.

The following afternoon I was put into a CT scanner and shuttled up for emergency exploratory surgery. The surgeons never thought I would make it after a pulse of over 180 and my body in writhing pain. After several months I had recovered but had to have my tube surgically placed along with relocation of my stomach to prevent a recurrence of such a catastrophic disaster.

3. Your sense of humor shines through in many of your posts. What advice do you have for others on keeping a positive outlook?

In my past I have had major anger issues and learned (on my own) how to channel and let go of such negative energy. I used to hop in my car and just go for a drive to unwind. Being no longer an option, the best way I have of releasing anger, fear, and such discomfort has been through humor or making light of some of the worst situations I’ve been in (in a tasteful manner of course).

Such an example was during the long hospital stay I had was the wonderful view out my window of a cemetery. I asked my doctor “If I’m not going to make it, at least it’s a short trip next door don’t you think?” It was kind of a morbid view when recovering in your second month of madness. Best to make the most of it since it was all I had at the time.

4. What has your experience been like with PatientsLikeMe? What keeps you coming back to the site?

I discovered PatientsLikeMe when trying to find an ALS support group of which this town has nothing of the sort. So an idea came up. Google has all the answers. (Siri on my phone came up with more odd results … let’s just say not G -rated support groups.)

Having no close family really makes ALS quite a challenge and I wanted to meet others in some way to compare notes, tips, tricks, and the occasional rant once in a while as ALS is such a trial on me to face alone. Having no car, nobody to help comfort my pain and frustrations. People here listen and I was surprised just how many lives I touched and look forward to reading my next update.

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Meet John from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 6th, 2016 by

We’d like to introduce you to John, another member of your 2015-2016 PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors. Shortly after being diagnosed with ALS in January 2014, John decided to retire from his 37-year career in IT. His new focus? Learning everything he possibly can about his condition — and plenty of fishing.

Fueled by what he calls his “zeal for knowledge” about ALS, John has been proactive in researching programs and clinical trials that might benefit him. He’s already participated in studies at Massachusetts General Hospital, the ALS Therapy Development Institute, and Bronx VA Medical Center.

Here, John talks about the importance of being his own advocate and shares some advice for newly diagnosed patients: Keep asking questions!

What gives you the greatest joy and puts a smile on your face?
I have a passion for fishing and then cooking dinner for my family and friends who like seafood. 2 hours from catching to dinner table is what I call fresh fish. Dinner usually starts with a glass of wine and fishing tales of the whopper that got away.

What has been your greatest obstacle living with your condition, and what societal shifts do you think need to happen so that we’re more compassionate or understanding of these challenges?
The obstacles that life has placed in front of me have given me relentless energies to not give up. I push myself and sometimes too much and others need to understand that while I appreciate their assistance there are times that I just want to do it myself.

How would you describe your condition to someone who isn’t living with it and doesn’t understand what it’s like?
ALS is a neuromuscular disease where I experience progressive muscle weakness and frequent fatigue.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition, what would it be?
Research the disease, the treatments being offered need to be in your best interests. Ask questions because doctors do not have all the answers, and if you don’t like the answers ask and see another doctor.

How important has it been to you to find other people with your condition who understand what you’re going through?
The understanding of what you are going through is paramount to understanding what’s happening to you.

Recount a time when you’ve had to advocate for yourself.
A clinical trial in Japan showed a treatment that showed promise for ALS patients and corroborated by some local doctors. Since the FDA did not yet approve it my doctor was too conservative to recommend it. I went to another doctor and am glad I did.

How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?
PatientsLikeMe is a valuable resource to see what others are experiencing and what treatments they are trying. Additionally, the tracking of lab results and tests is a great tool to see progression and if treatments are having an effect.

How can PatientsLikeMe be more valuable to the patient community?
PatientsLikeMe can be more valuable by awareness, not all medical professionals are aware of this valuable tool to patients. The more data we have the better the product.

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“Do not give up, find a reason to keep going.” – An interview with ALS member Lee

Posted January 4th, 2016 by

Humor and a passel of grandchildren keep Lee (slicky) going. He’s been living with ALS for nearly three decades and refuses to let his condition get the best of him. Now retired, he delights in his family and is very active in our forums – welcoming new members, doling out information and sharing his positive attitude with others.

We recently had the chance to catch up with him. Here’s what we learned…

1. Tell us a little about your life. You’re retired – what are you most passionate and interested about right now?

I have been fighting this disease for 27 years, it has been a rough road, but I am so grateful for the time I have been given. I worked up till 10 years ago, then I retired because I could not do my job anymore. My passion in life right now is to enjoy my family, and to live long enough to see a cure. I like watching TV, playing video games, do as much Tai Chi as I can.

2. You say in your profile, “If you think you’re going to die, you will so I keep going.” You’ve maintained a very positive attitude. What helps you do this?

I have always felt that a patient must try to keep as positive as possible, otherwise depression sets in and that is not good mentally or physically for the body. It is hard to do that with what we go through but once you get over the shock and fear of the diagnosis, you will start trying everything to slow down the progression and to find ways to cope. I use humor to keep going, even though the pain is horrible I refuse to give up.

3. You also mention your grandchildren. What’s your favorite thing about being a grandpa?

I have 8 grandchildren ranging from 2-14: 4 girls, 4 boys, my oldest grandson had stage 4 brain cancer a couple years ago went through 56 weeks of chemo, he is now in remission. I figured if he could beat it, I can beat mine. They are the world to me and the reason I keep fighting, I want to live long enough for them all to be old enough to remember their papa. I have an 11-year-old granddaughter who has been able to flush my feeding tube since she was 7, she is my mini nurse, I call her little bit. I am blessed to have them all living in a 20-mile radius of me so I see them frequently. I think my favorite thing about being a papa is making them laugh and watching them play and grow.

4. You’re quite active in the forum. What does it mean to you to be able to connect with other PALS?

I really enjoy PatientsLikeMe, I welcome every new patient that joins, I try to help and answer any questions and questions they may have, and I ask them questions. I have talked to patients all over the world, every patient is different, we have lost a lot of the ones who were on this site for a long time and it is always sad to see another one pass, I do not know most personally but feel they are part of my family because we have been in contact for so long.

5. What would your advice be for someone newly diagnosed?

My advice for newly diagnosed patients would be just because the doctor gives us 2-5 years to live does not mean we have to die in that time frame. I have known patients that get the diagnoses of ALS then they go home and give up, those patients do not last long. Stay as active as possible, exercise but not so much it hurts or tires you out, keep your weight up, seems to help slow down the progression, if you’re going to get a feeding tube do it before you need it and before you get to weak in your breathing, it will be an easier operation if you are healthier. I have found that if you start on a bipap breathing machine if only a hour a day before you really need it, it will give your lungs a bit of a rest, and could prolong your life. Get into a stem trial or drug trial if possible, and most important do not give up, find a reason to keep going, set goals for yourself, when you reach those goals make more, we all have to have a reason to keep going. I take lots of vitamins, do they work I do not know for sure but I am still here after 27 years so it is not hurting me, one of the main ones is CoQ10, and coconut oil I hear is very good for patients.

 

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“I feel as if I’ve been given more time to spread awareness.” – An interview with ALS member Lisa

Posted December 28th, 2015 by

Lisa (Ltbeauti) was studying to become a teacher in Richmond, VA, when she was diagnosed with ALS—the same type that affected both her sister and father. After joining PatientslikeMe in 2008, Lisa has made it her mission to stay proactive about her health and, like any good teacher, offer support and share her experience with new members in the community.

We caught up with her recently to learn more about how she copes with ALS, and here’s what we learned …

1.  Give us a glimpse of a regular day in your life. What are some challenges you face? What do you most enjoy?

I need assistance with most things now. I am in a power wheelchair 95% of the day. I will occasionally transfer to a recliner with a lift seat on top the cushion. The biggest challenge I face is constantly changing strategies to remain as independent as possible as the progressing nature of this disease takes away my ability to do even simple tasks. I can no longer speak and I use an iPad with speech software to communicate. I really enjoy getting outside to be around some plants or flowers. I was an avid gardener before ALS, and even worked at a greenhouse for 3 years.

2. Can you describe how life has changed for you since your diagnosis in 2008? 

I was in the process of becoming a teacher while working and raising a family when in 2006 my voice sounded raspy and different. I was diagnosed at Duke as was my sister 2 years before. Our father had the same MND, probable ALS. Most genetic types of ALS account for only about 10% of all cases and ours is slow progressing Bulbar type. So ours is pretty rare.

3. What inspires you to keep a positive attitude?

I think my faith helps me and the fact that most people with ALS don’t have a slow progressing form. I feel as if I have been given more time to advocate and spread awareness, so that’s what I do. I spend a lot of time in different forums, chat rooms, ALS Facebook groups and of course PatientsLikeMe trying to give and get advice.  In the case of PatientsLikeMe, I can also get data I can use to make more informed decisions regarding my healthcare and wellbeing.

4. You were recently an InMotion participant in Richmond’s Walk to Defeat ALS in October. Tell us a little about this event.

This yearly event raises money that goes to help local PALS (Person’s With ALS), like me with all sorts of stuff like equipment, support, technology, respite care and more. ALS can cost hundreds of thousands a year in the later stages and having access to equipment free of charge is one less worry we face. My local chapter has supplied me and others with a lot of equipment.

5. What has your experience been like on PatientsLikeMe? You recently posted in a forum about long-term ALS patients – what does it mean to you to be able to connect with people who are going through a similar time?

Connecting with others for support, to learn I’m not alone, and the data tracking features are very important to me. As I said before, I belong to many ALS support groups and forums but none can compare to PatientsLikeMe. It’s such a novel concept where users can set parameters and track data while getting support and answers. I have a complete history going back to my diagnosis to show any doctor, of all sorts of things relating specifically to ALS.

6. If you could give one piece of advice to a newly diagnosed person, what would that advice be?

Advice to newbies, prepare for the progressive nature of this disease by being proactive in your healthcare. Take advantage of your local ALS Chapter for equipment and support and reach out to others who have been where you are now. It’s amazing how beneficial it is to communicate with others going through similar circumstances.

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Your data doing good: The Lithium study

Posted December 18th, 2015 by

During #24DaysofGiving this December, we’re highlighting all the good your health data donations are doing. And this time, we’re starting at the beginning. 

As you probably know already, PatientsLikeMe launched its first community in 2006 for people living with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Two years later, we had an amazingly engaged and research-focused community who were willing to share data to change what the world knows about ALS. This neurodegenerative condition is fatal and takes away people’s ability to walk, speak, use their arms, and eventually breathe. This is exactly what happened to our founders’ brother, Stephen.

So, in 2008, when the results of an Italian clinical trial were published in a highly respected scientific journal saying that the use of lithium carbonate could slow the progression of ALS, we had a member community that was hungry to learn more. Spearheaded by two very involved members – a Brazilian ALS patient named Humberto and a caregiver in the US named Karen – we set out on a journey to collect and analyze thousands of patients’ real-world data to understand how lithium carbonate was working beyond the clinical trial setting. The result was unexpected and unmatched in the world of medicine.

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Gus’s story

Posted December 7th, 2015 by

Last month, we introduced Gus, a member of your 2015-2016 Team of Advisors living with ALS. Here he talks about his hope that the data he donates will help not just one person – but many.

Here’s more of his story:

 
You can see how much good data can do. During the month of December, we’re celebrating #24DaysofGiving. Any data you share on the site will go toward a donation of up to $20,000 by PatientsLikeMe to Make-A-Wish Massachusetts and Rhode Island to help fund life-affirming wishes for seriously ill children.
 

 
 
 
Data for you. For others. For good.

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Meet Gus from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted November 24th, 2015 by

Say hi to Gus, another member of your 2015-2016 PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors. Gus is someone who’s been very competitive and focused, has always felt that there was nothing he couldn’t accomplish or overcome, and spreads positivity wherever he goes. So when he was diagnosed with familial ALS, positive SOD1 gene – unknown variant, in May 2013, it’s been difficult both mentally and physically.

But even though it takes every bit of his energy, he refuses to waver. Over his 30-year career in the automotive industry, Gus enjoyed helping people – and now he’s bringing that calling into his new role as an Advisor and how he lives with his condition. He looks forward to bringing his positive energy and thoughts to anyone and everyone.

Here he talks about his greatest obstacles and has some sage words for those newly diagnosed.

What has been your greatest obstacle living with your condition, and what societal shifts do you think need to happen so that we’re more compassionate or understanding of these challenges?

Being told you have an incurable disease sets you back ten steps. I thought, I had it all figured out and then this happens. I had worked so hard and was mastering my craft, teaching others through examples and walking them through the processes. I talk about my career because I was focused and determined to succeed. Not only for my family, but all those who believed in me through vision and aspirations. I enjoyed having fun, and being with those who enjoyed life. I miss the Friday night dinners and dancing until midnight. My workouts, running 4 miles every other day with my son releasing the tension and anxiety, it would clear my mind and would help me refocus my thoughts and follow-throughs. And how my family felt, their thoughts and concerns hurt the most. I believe whatever happens in the future will be even better, why do I say that because I have faith and their is no other person like me, Mr. Optimistic, bad habits are hard to break. I believe what we are doing now will create the compassion and awareness world wide. We are not alone.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition, what would it be?

I would say, listen and take it all in. Give yourself as much time to absorb everything. Understanding everyone is different and reacts differently. Your caregiver or partner will have as much or more input, simply because your thought process will take time. Have an open line of communication and don’t hold anything back, your concerns and how you are feeling mustn’t be held inside. Together and with family support will help you get through this. Have an open mind to trying different types of medical treatments. Your diet, is critical, and a holistic approach would benefit greatly.

How important has it been to you to find other people with your condition who understand what you’re going through?

It’s very important, simply because you can share your treatments or how you are dealing with it. Patient to patient interaction is vital and paramount, sharing your thoughts and concerns are key. Just talking to someone with the same illness you feel a sense of ease. It hard to describe but they know and understand exactly what’s happening. And for me, it’s half the battle I thought at the beginning it would be difficult but it’s not. So, I will run into the next question just a bit. PatientsLikeMe, and how wonderful this amazing site/ forum has helped me connect with those living with the same illness. Sharing our thoughts and treatments, and stories great stuff.

How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?

As I mention earlier, this site/forum is my medicine where I can share how I’m feeling everyday, your physical body and mind. It’s the best thing out there, no other site or forum compares to this site. Sharing your stories and what treatments have worked or not, getting real answers and asking the tough questions only to be answered by those living with this illness. A site, filled with so much information and helping you follow your own health chart. And tracking and inputting your conditions will help others on the site as well. Your words uplift others like no one else can, because they see themselves in you. I call it sharing your “wins” and then counting them each and everyday, reminding yourself of what you have accomplished. Positive in and positive out.

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Q & A with Mary Ann Singersen, Co-Founder/President of the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation

Posted August 14th, 2015 by

In 1998, Stephen Heywood, the brother of our co-founders Ben and Jamie, and friend of Jeff Cole, was diagnosed with ALS. They immediately went to work trying to find new ways to slow Stephen’s progression, and after 6 years of trial and error, they built PatientsLikeMe in 2004.

Mary Ann Singersen also has family experience with the neurological condition. Her father, Edward, was diagnosed two years before Stephen, and she co-founded the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation, now a partner of ours here at PatientsLikeMe. Mary Ann recently sat down for a blog interview and spoke about her inspiration to start the organization, her philosophy about ALS and what advice she would have for anyone living, or caring for someone, with ALS.

Can you share with our followers how your own family’s experience with ALS inspired you to start the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation? 

My father, Edward Sciaba Sr., was diagnosed with ALS in 1995. Going through this ordeal really opened my eyes to the plight of not only the patients but their families as well. In 1998 he lost his battle with ALS.

Our Co-Founder Donna Jordan also lost her brother Cliff Jordan Jr. to ALS the same year. (Our “Cliff Walk” is named for him).

We met through volunteering in the ALS community and thought that since we already had the Walk in Cliff’s name, we would like to be sure that the funds raised were used to help patients with their financial and emotional needs. We also wanted to further research efforts so we donate a portion to ALSTDI and UMASS Memorial Medical.

Donna and I went on to co-found the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation and we pride ourselves on our ability to put patients and their needs first. We offer many in-house programs that help with family vacations, day trips, respite, utility bills, back to school and holiday shopping, college scholarships for children of patients, etc. At this time, our programs are restricted in that they are available to New England area residents only.

We know you have your biggest event of the year – The 19th Annual “Cliff Walk” For A.L.S. – coming up on September 13. Can you share some more information about the event and its history? How can people get involved?

My co-founder and friend Donna Jordan’s brother Cliff was diagnosed with ALS at 34 years of age and he wanted to do something to support research efforts, so he held a walk on the Cape Cod Canal and 60 people came and raised $4,000.

Every year since then, the Walk has grown and grown. Last year, we welcomed 1,500 participants and raised over $220,000.

The “Cliff Walk®” is a seven mile walk along the Cape Cod Canal followed by live musical entertainment, fun activities for the whole family and lots of great food! If folks wish to come to the Walk we ask them to download a pledge sheet or make an online fundraising page.

On your website you say, “Until there is a cure…there is the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation.” Where do you and the organization see research focused in the future? What’s the next step? 

I can only say that I hope with all the funds raised by ALS organizations around the world and with the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, there just has to be a cure on the way. In the meantime, we are here to help in any way we can.

We’re thrilled to be a partner of the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation. How do you think those living with ALS can benefit from PatientsLikeMe? How can PatientsLikeMe ALS members benefit from the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation? 

PatientsLikeMe is a great resource for anyone living with any condition – not just ALS. It’s also great for caregivers. ALS patients more than any other condition are online researching their symptoms, what helps, what doesn’t. They and their collaboration with each other may hold the key to better treatment options and someday maybe a cure.

Our Foundation prides itself on putting patients and their needs first. Our services are open to New England area residents and include granting funds to help with equipment, bills, respite services, college scholarships to children of patients, vacations, day trips, back to school and holiday expenses and any other needs we are able to meet. So please if you or a loved one have ALS and live in New England contact us for assistance. Call Debbie Bell our Patient Services Coordinator at 781-217-5480, email her at debbellals@aol.com or call our office at 508-759-9696 or email alsfamily@aol.com.

We also wish to find a cure for our loved ones living with ALS, so we fund research efforts at ALS TDI and UMASS Memorial Medical Center.

From your own personal experiences, what advice would you give to someone living with ALS, and to his or her family members and friends? 

Take help anywhere you can get it. Don’t ever feel like you shouldn’t ask because someone who needs it more will be denied, or because you have received help from another organization. Funds we and other organizations raise are for you and people like you.

If you or a loved one has ALS and live in the New England area, visit the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation website for more information and to request assistance.”

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Recapping with our Team of Advisors!

Posted June 19th, 2015 by

Many of you will remember meeting our inaugural Team of Advisors from when we first shared about this exciting team last year! This group of 14 were selected from over 500 applicants in the community and have been incredible in their dedication and desire to bring the patient voice directly to PatientsLikeMe. As the team is wrapping up their year-long term as advisors, we wanted to make sure we update the community on all the hard work they’ve done on your behalf!

First Ever In-Person Patient Summit in Cambridge
Your team of patient advisors travelled from all over the country to join us for 2 days here in Cambridge. They met with PatientsLikeMe staff, got a tour of the offices and began their collaboration together as a team!

Blog Series
The advisors have also been connecting with the broader community as part of an ongoing series here on the blog! This is an impressive group and we hope you’ll read through to learn more about the team.  Some of the interviews featured so far include profiles on BeckyLisaDanaEmilieKarla, Deb, AmySteve, Charles, Letitia and Kitty. If you haven’t had the chance to read their stories and what they’re passionate about yet, feel free to check these out!

Best Practices Guide for Researchers
As part of their mission, this group discussed how to make research more patient-centric and ways that researchers can learn to better engage with patients as partners. Out of this work, the team developed and published the ‘Best Practices Guide for Researchers’, a comprehensive written guide outlining steps for how researchers can meaningfully engage patients throughout the research process. You can hear more about the whole process in this exciting video from some members of the team as they discuss their experiences with the creation of this guide:

Community Champions
The advisors have been wonderful community champions throughout the year, providing invaluable feedback about what it’s like to be a person living with chronic conditions and managing their health. This team has weighed in on new research initiatives, served as patient liaisons and been vocal representatives for you and your communities here on PatientsLikeMe. Whether it was sitting down with a research team to give their thoughts on new projects, discussing their experiences with clinical trials, giving feedback about medical record keeping or opening up about patient empowerment – this group has been tireless in representing the patient voice and PatientsLikeMe community!

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Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Steve

Posted May 29th, 2015 by

A few weeks ago, Amy shared about living with a rare genetic disease in her Team of Advisors introduction post. Today, it’s Steve’s turn to share about his unique perspective as a scientist who has been diagnosed with ALS. Below, learn about Steve’s experience with ALS research, his views on patient centeredness and what being a part of the Team of Advisors means to him.

About Steve (aka rezidew):
Steve is a professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was diagnosed with ALS in the fall of 2013 and his symptoms have progressed with increased debilitating weakness in his arms and hands. He was excited to join us as an advisor to lend his expertise on research methodology to the team. He has authored or coauthored an impressive 6 books, 91 peer reviewed publications, and 26 published chapters. When we talked about giving a background on research methods to the team, Steve said ‘I can teach it.’ He is passionate about helping teach others and believes “as a scientist who has been diagnosed with ALS, I regret having this disorder but I am eager to use my unique perspective to promote and possibly conduct relevant research.”

Steve’s view of patient centeredness:
“The obvious perspective is that patients should have some voice in decisions regarding what research should be conducted, what the participants in research should be expected to do, how participants in research should be selected, and how results of research should be communicated.”

Steve on being part of the Team of Advisors:
“Being a member of the Team of Advisors has helped me understand a wide array of perspectives on patient-centered research based on my interaction with fellow patients who have various health problems and who have various levels of knowledge about research. I am impressed with the consensual consolidation that has emerged from the Team’s dialogue about research.”

Steve’s experience with bibrachial ALS and research on ALS:
“A diagnosis of ALS can be associated with several different configurations of symptoms. Some PALS (Patients with ALS) begin with problems in their feet and legs, some begin with difficulty talking and/or swallowing, and some, like me, begin with weakness in their hands and arms. Also, some PALS start relatively young and have other PALS in their family. And, some PALS have dementia. We all lose our ability to breathe eventually and our array of symptoms broadens, but our initial experience can be very different. I am surprised and disappointed that the medical community has not done more to identify our subtypes and to track our progression within our subtype.

Developing a PALS taxonomy would help doctors provide support to PALS that is most relevant to our needs. It would also help us share our experience with fellow patients and learn from each other. An ALS taxonomy would also be extremely relevant for research on treatments. Ongoing research on ALS using rodents with SOD1 mutations may yield an effective treatment someday, but for now PALS would feel more supportive of this research if it used models that reflect the different taxonomies of ALS. We would feel even more supportive if more research allowed us to participate in studies that focus directly on medicines that could help our ongoing progressive terminal illness.”

More about the 2014 Team of Advisors
They’re a group of 14 PatientsLikeMe members who will give feedback on research initiatives and create new standards that will help all researchers understand how to better engage with patients like them. They’ve already met one another in person, and over the next 12 months, will give feedback to our own PatientsLikeMe Research Team. They’ll also be working together to develop and publish a guide that outlines standards for how researchers can meaningfully engage with patients throughout the entire research process.

So where did we find our 2014 Team? We posted an open call for applications in the forums, and were blown away by the response! The Team includes veterans, nurses, social workers, academics and advocates; all living with different conditions.

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What can you do to challenge ALS in May?

Posted May 4th, 2015 by

It’s been 23 years since the U.S. Congress first recognized May as ALS Awareness Month in 1992, and while progress towards new treatments has been slower than we’ve all hoped,  a lot has still happened since then. In 1995, Riluzole, the first treatment to alter the course of ALS, was approved by the FDA. In the 2000s, familial ALS was linked to 10 percent of cases, and new genes and mutations continue to be discovered every year.1 In 2006, the first-of-its-kind PatientsLikeMe ALS community, was launched, and now numbers over 7,400 strong. And just two short years later, those community members helped prove that lithium carbonate, a drug thought to affect ALS progression, was actually ineffective.

This May, it’s time to spread awareness for the history of ALS and share everything we’ve learned to encourage new research that can lead to better treatments.

In the United States, 5,600 people are diagnosed with ALS each year,2 which means that well over 100,000 have started their ALS journey since 1992. And in 1998, Stephen Heywood, the brother of our co-founders Ben and Jamie, was also diagnosed. They immediately went to work trying to find new ways to slow Stephen’s progression, and after 6 years of trial and error, they built PatientsLikeMe in 2004. If you don’t know their family’s story, watch Jamie’s TED Talk on the big idea his brother inspired.

So how can you get involved in ALS awareness this May? Here’s what some organizations are doing:

If you’ve been diagnosed with ALS and are looking to connect with a welcoming group of others like you, join the PatientsLikeMe community. More than 7,000 members are sharing about their experiences and helping one another navigate their health journeys.

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for more ALS awareness posts on the blog in May.

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1 http://www.alsa.org/research/about-als-research/genetics-of-als.html

2 http://www.alsa.org/about-als/facts-you-should-know.html


PatientsLikeMe member TMurph58 shares about his advocacy efforts and journey with ALS

Posted April 20th, 2015 by

TMurph58 is a longtime PatientsLikeMe member who is living with ALS. You may remember him from his 2012 interview, when he talked about the “Treat Us Now” movement and his experiences with ALS. We recently caught up with Tom, and he shared about his extensive advocacy efforts over the past few years, including his recent presentation on patient-focused drug development with Sally Okun, PatientsLikeMe’s Vice President of Advocacy, Policy and Patient Safety. Catch up on his journey below.

Hi Tom! Can you share a little about your early symptoms and diagnosis experience?

I think I was very lucky to have a knowledgeable general practitioner – my actual diagnosis only took three months to complete even though I had to see three separate neurologists. My early symptoms started in my right hand with weakness and the atrophy of the thumb muscle – I thought it was carpal tunnel syndrome.

How has your ALS progressed over the past few years?

Thankfully I have been in the category of a slow progressor:

The ALSFRS-R measures activities of daily living (ADL) and global function for patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The ALSFRS-R provides a physicians-generated estimate of patient’s degree of functional impairment, which can be evaluated serially to objectively assess any response to treatment or progression of disease.

Description:

  • 12-question scale with 5 possible responses each (0-indicates unable to 4-indicates normal ability)
  • Individual item scores are added to produce a reported score of between 0 = worst and 48 = best

What sort of advocacy efforts have you been involved in since your diagnosis?

  • PatientsLikeMe (PLM) Member since January 2011.
  • Active with the ALS Association (raised over $80,000 to date) – my most current activity.
  • On 8/2/2011, FM 106.7 The Fan (Sports Junkies) hosted an ALS Awareness Day Interview.
  • March 2012: Featured Interview on PatientsLikeMe (PLM) –Meet ALS “Treat Us Now” Steering Committee Member Tom Murphy.
  • April 24-25 2012 Visit to Capitol Hill with Former Neuraltus CEO (Andrew Gengos) – Summary: I think Andrew Gengos (CEO Neuraltus) and I made a good “team” – Both Industry and Patients “partnering” with a consistent message related to Expanded Access and Accelerated Approval for Rare and Life Threatening diseases such as ALS.
  • Raised over $30,000 for a collaboration between ALS Treat Us Now and the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALSTDI) and rode the last 15 miles of the ALSTDI Tri-State Trek in July 2012.
  • Presentation made to the FDA CDER on 8/24/2012.

You’re a 3-star data donor on PatientsLikeMe – what do you find helpful about tracking your health on the site?

Because of this site, I think I have the most complete documentation of my disease progression in treatments than anyone in the health industry. It is a great tool and has been unbelievably helpful to me over the last four years. 

Finally, congratulations on your 33-year anniversary! As a father and husband, what’s one thing you’d like to share with the community about ALS and family relationships?

At the end of the day, given all the challenges those of us with ALS face – nothing is more important than your family relationships and the love you share.

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“ALS is not for sissies.” – PatientsLikeMe member SuperScout shares about her journey with ALS

Posted March 30th, 2015 by

That’s what SuperScout likes to tell people when explaining her personal motto. She was diagnosed in 2009, and in a recent interview, she explained how she takes her life one day, and sometimes one hour, at a time. In her interview, she broke down what goes on during a typical visit to her ALS clinic, and shared how technology has been simultaneously frustrating and extremely helpful. Learn about her journey below.

When did you first experience symptoms of ALS?

In August 2008, I was attending a Girl Scout event. As we recited the Promise, I noticed my fingers weren’t making the sign correctly. Over the next few months, I began to lose the fine motor skills in my right hand. Writing was hard, & I started using my left hand for most things. I thought I had some form of carpal tunnel. I had NO pain, so I wasn’t concerned. In December 2008, I went to my family doctor for my annual check-up. I told him my problems & he sent me for an electroencephalogram (EEG). That began the series of tests that eventually led to my diagnosis in April 2009.

How did you feel after being officially diagnosed? And what was the first thing that went through your mind?

I don’t think I will ever forget that day. I suspected something unusual was going to happen because the technician at my second EEG commented that the neurologist must find my case interesting because normally, it’s difficult to get an appointment with him. He entered the exam room, sat down, and said, “I have bad news for you. You have Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” I was stunned, and asked if it would affect my longevity. He said yes, but couldn’t tell me how much. He asked if I had any questions, but I didn’t because I didn’t know much about it. Sure, I had heard of it, but didn’t know what it would do to me. I went home, and looked on the Internet for information on ALS. It was scary. The first thing through my mind was how it would change my life and that of my family. I was used to doing for others, now they would need to do for me.

You tell people “ALS is not for sissies.” Can you elaborate on that?

A sissy is defined as someone who is timid or cowardly. No one who has ALS can fit that definition. We all know it will shorten our life, and rob us of many functions we once took for granted. I really like the PSA Angela Lansbury did for ALS in 2008. She’s sitting on a stool, and a gun is fired. As the bullet races toward her, she describes what ALS does to the body, and ends by saying “There’s nothing you can do to stop it.” She asks for donations for the ALS Association (ALSA) stating that with this help those with ALS can do this: She rises and avoids the oncoming bullet. We all see the bullet, yet can’t do anything to stop it. Unlike other serious diseases, there are NO options for a treatment that will cure this disease that’s been described as horrific. However, every day we People with ALS (PALS) are fighting the daily battle to stay positive. Sometimes, it’s easy, sometimes, it’s hard. You take it one day at a time, or even just one hour at a time. That makes us BRAVE, and not sissies.

Take us through a typical visit to your ALS clinic – what’s the experience like?

Every 3 months, I visit the ALS clinic at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Once my weight is checked, I’m taken to an exam room, then the team of specialists each stop in to see me. In addition to the neurologist, I see a respiratory therapist, nurse, ALS representative, MDA representative, speech therapist, dietician, occupational therapist, physical therapist, social worker, & a pastoral care minister. They each make recommendations to help me have the best quality of life with ALS as possible. My family members are asked if they have any needs. Each room has a sign – “Have we answered all your questions?” About 1 week after my visit, I receive in the mail a summary of my visit with their recommendations. Prior to the visit, I also complete a Quality of Life survey, similar to the one on this website. Although lengthy (around 3 1/2 hours), I enjoy my visits because each person makes me feel important and they truly care about me.

How has technology helped you with your communication?

When I began using my Eyegaze Edge, I found it frustrating, but gradually got better at not moving my head and was able to be successful. Now, it is my sole means of communication. Before my caregiver arrives in the morning, I type out for her what I want for my meals, what channels I want to watch on TV, and any special information. My son says I sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher when I talk, so using my device is a necessity if I want to communicate. We even take it to Sunday School, so I can participate in our class discussions. My most favorite thing to do is connect to the internet. Sending emails is easy, and I go on Facebook, play games, read, Skype, shop, and do whatever I’m in the mood for. Once, when the camera broke, I was without it for a few days and I really missed it. I wound up grunting “Yes” or “No” to questions which was frustrating. Using technology to connect to others makes me feel I still have a purpose in life, and I have something worthwhile to contribute.

Finally, what’s the most positive surprise you’ve learned while living with ALS?

The most positive surprise I’ve learned while living with ALS is that I have more people thinking about me, and supporting me with their prayers, than I expected. I learned this during the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I began to see videos posted on my Facebook timeline of people participating in the Challenge in my honor. It warmed my heart to see them. They featured friends, former work colleagues, and some fellow Girl Scout volunteers. Many said how I’ve inspired them with my smile. It was never my intention to be an inspiration, but just to cope with ALS the best way I knew, with my faith in God and a sense of humor. Due to the Ice Bucket Challenge, the world now knew more about ALS, and money will be used to find a treatment and cure for ALS. I feel hopeful for the first time since my diagnosis.

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Hacking our way to new and better treatments with integrated biology

Posted March 13th, 2015 by

When it comes to discovery and healthcare advancements, too many of us are more focused on the processes we use today rather than at a first principals level looking and what’s possible. We are a sector desperately in need of disruption to accelerate the generation of knowledge and lower the costs of developing new treatments for patients today. We need to ask what are the best ways to generate actionable evidence that can benefit patients, clinicians, payers and regulators.

We need to take an integrated approach to biology and treatment discovery.

Large-scale approaches like genetics, the biome, metabolomics, and proteomics are coming down in price faster than the famous Moors law that has driven computer improvements. These tools are beginning to allow us to understand the biological variation that makes up each of us. This is the technology I used at ALS TDI; the organization I founded, to help learn about the early changes in ALS. This emerging technology needs to be met with well-measured human outcomes.

PatientsLikeMe is working to build that network. Our goal is to be a virtual global registry with millions of individuals sharing health information, translated into every language and normalized to local traditions fully integrated into the medical system so it’s part of care and incorporates information from the electronic medical record, imaging, diagnostics and emerging technologies for interrogating biology.  We are doing this because to understand the biology of disease we needed to understand the experience of disease with the patients as true research partners.

This isn’t just about integrating biological methods to forge discovery. You can’t just consider the science; you also have to consider the person. No two health journeys are exactly the same. With integrated biology, you have to look at the whole person: their social interactions, socioeconomic status, comorbities, environmental impacts, lifestyle factors, geographical location, etc. To accurately model a condition like ALS, or any of the other 2,300 conditions that PatientsLikeMe members are living with, we need to understand everything that can impact progression. We need to use those real-world patient experiences to inform and improve the drug discovery process.

There is much that needs to be solved to move from our current siloed approach to the integrated one and we have had the privilege of being involved in one of the most innovative. Orion Bionetworks brought together leaders from across the MS Field to develop an integrated model of the disease and they are now moving forward with an even more ambitious project.

They’re using computational predictive modeling to bring together different scientific methods and big patient data to find treatments that work and biomarkers that measure them to the people that need them faster. Said differently, they are hacking their way to treatments, because that’s the only way it’s going to work.

They’ve already got a validated model: Orion MS 1.0. And now they want to develop a new Orion MS 2.0 model. Learn more about their #HackMS campaign and how you can help.

We are highlighting Orion here because what they are doing is so innovative and worthy of support. I donate to ALS TDI, the institution I founded, because I believe in the mission and their approach. I also have donated to Orion because if we need to do anything in discovery we need to support the people that are trying to do it differently. What they are proposing is so innovative and powerful in its scale that it has the potential to redefine how we understand and treat MS. That’s why we are partners with them and it’s how we meet our responsibility to our MS patients to use their data for good.

PatientsLikeMe member JamesHeywood

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