199 posts in the category “ALS”

Paul Wicks weighs in on a new, patient-conceived project

Posted August 22nd, 2016 by

Partnering with patients is at the very core of what we do, but a new collaboration with longtime ALS member Steve Saling (SmoothS) is giving that a new spin — it was Steve’s idea and he’s been driving the project from day one.

Since his diagnosis in 2006, Steve has made it his mission to help other pALS live a better quality of life. He’s founded the ALS Residence Initiative, which has grown from the first fully-automated, vent-ready ALS Residence in Chelsea, Mass., to multiple residences across the country that offer pALS independent living alongside 24-hour care.

Steve sat down with us last week to share about his latest project: producing a series of educational short videos to help caregiving and medical staff better understand the unique care needs of pALS.

But what does this patient-conceived project mean for research? We caught up with our VP of Innovation, Paul Wicks, PhD., to chat more about this project from a research standpoint. Here’s what he had to say:

Working with members for research is in PatientsLikeMe’s DNA, but this collaboration with longtime ALS member Steve Saling (SmoothS) takes it to another level — the project was conceived and driven by Steve. What do you think about this unique partnership? What makes it different than other projects, and what are your expectations? 

There is certainly a lot of buzz out there about being “patient centered” these days – there is a risk that it’s tokenism rather than truly empowering – which means giving up some degree of control to others. In our case we’ve offered Steve access to powerful survey tools and our highly engaged population so he can develop his research about the experiences of other patients like him to help shape the services he designs. That’s really the core of what we do here, bringing the patient voice to decision makers in healthcare, and the reason this is so powerful is that as an architect, as an advocate, as a leader in the space, we’re helping Steve to make better decisions about the unmet needs of his community. My hope is that by giving people an anonymous survey they can complete at their leisure from home or with the use of assistive technology that we might hear from people with ALS who don’t normally have a voice.

In its early stages, the survey was more geared towards pALS and cALS receiving and giving institutional care. Can you talk about the evolution of the project with Steve to include those not in a care setting like that, too? 

We’ve been following Steve’s pioneering work in developing his ALS Residence Initiative for a long time, in fact I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him for a beer a couple of times and I even mentioned it in a TEDx talk as far back as 2010. As a researcher with 13 years experience in ALS I know that while residential care is the right fit for some people with ALS, others don’t have that option or couldn’t imagine being anywhere other than their homes. We also recognized that people have a mix of caregivers, both informal (e.g. spouses, children) and professional (e.g. home help, nurses) and that many patients have a blend of care from different sources throughout their journey. We also wanted to broaden the survey as much as possible so that we could hear from as many people as possible.

One of the goals is to learn from members to get more background context for a series of educational caregiver videos that Steve is producing and PatientsLikeMe is also sponsoring. What else do we hope to learn? 

When you or a loved one is diagnosed with ALS, you get a lot of educational material about the disease. It’s full of statistics and medical jargon about neurons and genetics, but you don’t get much support about how to live with it, how to cope. That could be something as simple as little tips for coping with weakness to something as complex as how to choose the right wheelchair or how to safely transfer with a hoist. Neurologists and experts and professionals can advise and consult, but in most cases they haven’t been there day after day to assist with the basics of daily life that become so hard with ALS, so I’m hoping that with our help Steve can build a permanent resource that will be a great “how to” guide for practical (and sometimes even awkward or embarrassing) topics that people encounter every day.

Caregiver needs are as wide-ranging as the number of people living with a condition, but what do you think is unique about the needs of caregivers of pALS? 

Fear of the unknown is a big one – although we’re seeing increasing awareness about ALS thanks to the Ice Bucket Challenge and movies likeThe Theory of Everything, most people don’t know what ALS is going to involve for them when their loved one is first diagnosed. Many people will want to tiptoe gently in the shallow end of knowing about it rather than diving in at the deep end – it can be hard enough coping with the issues in front of you without having to worry about problems that may or may not arise further down the line. Unlike something like cancer we also lack treatments in ALS, so it can feel like you’re just waiting for the next symptom rather than actively fighting it with drugs or surgery. Perhaps this is just bias, but ALS also tends to affect some of the strongest and most courageous people I’ve known and it can be hard for them to accept that they need help from others – they’ve often been successful professionals or highly active people and so admitting that they need help to walk or to get dressed doesn’t always come naturally to them.

Is anyone else doing research projects like this one that you know of?  

Over the years I’ve seen a little bit of relatively small-scale qualitative research like this published in the main ALS Journal usually from nurses, physical therapists, or occupational therapists, but I’m pretty confident this is the first conducted by a patient!


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Steve Saling’s patient-conceived ALS project

Posted August 15th, 2016 by

Steve Saling (SmoothS), a longtime ALS member of PatientsLikeMe, has made it his mission since diagnosis to help other pALS live a better quality of life. He’s founded the ALS Residence Initiative, which has grown from the first fully-automated, vent-ready ALS Residence in Chelsea, Mass., at the Leonard Florence Center for Living, to multiple residences across the country that offer pALS independent living alongside 24-hour care.

His latest project is producing a series of educational short videos to help caregiving and medical staff in nursing homes and other health institutions better understand the unique care needs of pALS. But before he can create these videos, he’s asking other PatientsLikeMe pALS to help him get started by sharing care experiences in an upcoming survey.

We caught up with Steve recently to chat more about this project. Here’s what he had to say:

You’ve teamed up with us to conduct this survey as part of a larger project you’re working on to create a series of short, educational videos for caregivers of pALS in institutional settings. Can you tell us what inspired you to do this? 

I want to make these videos because it is my nightmare to go to the hospital or live in a traditional nursing home and be treated like a product to be taken care of and kept alive instead of living a life. I have a handful of friends, including Patrick O’Brien and Ron Miller, who have survived institutional living. Their stories were horrible but weren’t about mean or cruel caregivers as much as about ignorant caregivers. I think everyone should be able to live in an ALS Residence but, recognizing that that isn’t going to happen for most pALS in the short term, I want to provide a quick easy way to orient and educate well-meaning staff so that taking care of a pALS, who may not be able to speak or breathe, is less scary. If there is fear of the unknown, let’s remove the unknown.

Caregiver needs are as wide-ranging as the number of people living with a condition, but what do you think is unique about the needs of caregivers of pALS? 

This is very true and these videos will not attempt to be very specific in detailing care needs. But I believe there are some universal truths that will apply to most pALS like non-verbal communication, range of motion, and emotional lability. There should also be a basic understanding of what ALS is and what ALS is not. The Ice Bucket Challenge made everyone aware that ALS is a wretched disease but very little understanding of what ALS is. Institutional caregivers need to know that pALS minds remain sharp and our senses undulled. Like a PatientsLikeMe button of mine says, “ALS has stolen my voice, NOT my mind.”

Similarly, why do you think there’s more research needed here and a need for educational videos?

I think a lot of caregivers are intimidated by the unknown and there is a lot unknown about ALS in the long term care industry. If successful, this video series will begin to fill that gap.

What can you tell us about the series of videos? What is your vision for these? 

I hope the videos become a valuable resource for pALS living in or considering moving to a nursing home or chronic hospital. Even someone going to the hospital for a multi-day stay should benefit. I want them to be what pALS would tell the staff if they could speak themselves. The intent is to create a series of six, 5-6 minute videos that would each cover a different aspect of providing excellent care for pALS. There would be a video for understanding ALS, non-verbal communication, range of motion, emotional lability, patience and compassion, and maybe even one for being a good patient. If successful and well received, this could be the beginning of an ongoing series.

What would you like to take away from this survey? What kind of information to you expect to get? And why is this important for your larger project?

I hope to get a big response so we know that the problem is real. I am counting on friends and family of institutionalized pALS to speak in their behalf if their loved one doesn’t have regular access to the internet. Right now, the topics are based on my fears and a small core of brainstormers. I would like to greatly expand that group to determine what the real challenges are that pALS face. I would even like to solicit video questions that may be in the final video.

After the survey, what are the next steps for this project? And will you be asking the community for any further insight?

I would like to create a focus group out of the willing poll takers. This should be a community project. We will work with a professional filmmaker to storyboard each of the videos along with identifying a recognized expert to address the issue at hand. The filming and editing will take place and there will be a grand release, hopefully with much fanfare and putting PLM in the spotlight for making it happen.

Is there anything you’d like to say to your pALS on PatientsLikeMe? 

Kick ALS’ ass every day. Live long and prosper. Life is good.


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Patients as Partners: John and David share their clinical trial experiences

Posted June 1st, 2016 by

We’ve been hearing from members of the Team of Advisors about how they’ve used the Partnership Principles in their health journeys. Recently, we sat down with John (Dockstoy), living with ALS, and David (Davidgewirtz), who’s living with lung cancer. John and David are both interested in research and have been involved in a few clinical trials. Below, they share their firsthand trial experiences, offer up some advice for others, and talk about the importance of collaboration and mutual respect with their care teams along the way.

Can you tell us a little about the clinical trials you’ve participated in?

John: I took part in trials at:

  1. Massachusetts General Hospital (September 2014) – phase 2, randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled Multicenter Study of Autologous MSC-NTF Cells in Patients With ALS
  2. Bronx VA – Brain and nerve stimulation for hand muscles in spinal cord injury and ALS
  3. Weill Medical College of Cornell University – Safety of Capryclic Triglycerides in ALS: A Pilot Study

Team of Advisors member David, living with lung cancer

David: I was diagnosed with stage four metastatic lung cancer just about five years ago. June 2011. Since that time my only form of treatment has been targeted therapies which were available to me through clinical trials. The first clinical trial I received the drug Erlotinib known as Tarceva for three and a half years. The second clinical trial I am now on for about fifteen months targets a mutation that is responsible for resistance to Tarceva. The Clovis pharmaceutical company makes the drug with the code name C01686 which does not have FDA approval and Clovis recently disclosed that the drug has been withdrawn from future development. Both drugs have enabled me to live a very high quality of life and unless told nobody would know I had a terminal disease.

Clinical trials require the patient to be an active participant in the treatment modality. For me both clinical trials required that I have monthly visits to the clinic for blood work and scans every two months. The routine of my CT scans include my chest, abdomen, and pelvis plus a whole body bone scan. Normally I spend six hours at the hospital to compete these tests. That I am monitored very closely is a double edged sword. The downside is the frequency of scans exposes me to significant radiation which overtime is also associated with cancer. There is also generalized anxiety that comes with this routine. When you’re done with one cycle which includes a discussion with the oncologist about the radiology report, you automatically start to think about the next cycle. The silver lining in this cloud is that detection of new disease is caught very early and more often treatable than not – a really good benefit, which takes some of the sting out of the routine.

Have any of the partnership principles helped you get involved in these clinical trials?

John: I believe all principles apply. Respect is key; and alignment and teamwork from both parties involved.

David: “Know your needs” was the principal driver of why I entered a clinical trial. This principle requires that the expectations of the patient (me) are aligned in a partnership with the goals of the oncologist. In my situation there was a shared expectation of the value of clinical trial. In collaboration with my oncologist we discussed the likely benefits, side effects and the efficacy of the trial as a treatment plan for my advanced stage lung cancer. We shared the belief that the benefits of the trial far exceed the risks associated with taking Tarceva. We shared the value that (1) I would receive state-of-the-art treatment with the expectations that the drug Tarceva would (2) not not only control my cancer, but would extend my progression free survival of my disease.

How do you decide if a clinical trial is right for you?

Team of Advisors member John, living with ALS

John: Timing is a critical decision factor. What I mean by that is many clinical trials have two-year and three-year exclusion criteria. Also, location — most trials do not reimburse for travel or nominal reimbursement. You must believe that the trial will have a benefit, not only to you but for those to follow.  

David: In collaboration with caregivers the patient must know his/her needs in terms of the benefits and risks of entering a clinical trial. This requires that the care team fully explain the benefits of the trial versus the risk of participating. A phase one trial poses the most risk to the patient with an uncertain outcome. In contrast, a phase three trial poses the least. For example, my first clinical trial was a phase three trial where I was given the drug Tarceva with expectation that my medium progression free survival would be 12 months. In my case I did not progress until 3.5 years. Truly a great outcome despite some manageable side effects or risks.

A patient also has the opportunity to enhance the understanding of their disease. All types of clinical data captured in the study helps organizations like PatientsLikeMe market data to pharmaceutical and insurance companies who are stakeholders needed to fast-track new drugs from the bench to the clinic. In the end, your participation along with others may save or prolong the quality of your life. This possibility was the primary driver for me to enroll in another clinical trial that has kept my cancer in check, now five years, with minimal side effects.

What advice do you have for other patients who want to learn more about participating in clinical trials?

John: Research, research, research! Scour the Internet for details, speak with friends and family, ask your doctor what they think and what they see on the horizon for new trials. Be prepared to look at what’s next in clinical trials so as one completes you can start up another.

David: The decision to participate in clinical trials encompasses many of our PatientsLikeMe partnership principles. For example, where you are in your treatments phase may dictate what principles are more important than others. If you are at the start of your treatment, then you must have a very good understanding of what a clinical trial can do for you — how much more quality time the treatment offers. You can only arrive at this decision point if you and your care team have a shared understanding of the benefits of participating in a clinical trial versus pursuing a different line of treatment. Through my experience with clinical trials you are well served if you operate under the assumption that participation is a shared responsibility. Alternatively, if you reach a milestone in your treatment where you must go to another line of treatment then it is critical to reflect, evaluate and reprioritize if your current care team is the right team to meet your needs. Finally, regardless of the phase you enter a clinical trial, you must self-educate yourself

That means you have done some basic research by:

  1. Reading about relevant clinical trials on sites like the National Cancer Institute, which has a listing and description of all clinical trials in the U.S. and worldwide.
  1. Preparing yourself for entering a clinical trial by visiting the government website that explains what patients and caregivers should know about participating in clinical trials.
  1. Participating in organizations like PatientsLikeMe that have communities where patients share their treatment experiences, side effects and their success and failures. Personally, these organizations have empowered me through emotional support and knowledge of other clinical trials that may become options for me while I travel on my journey.


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“I learned that life is precious.”

Posted May 23rd, 2016 by

Meet Jenna. She’s been part of the PatientsLikeMe Team since back in 2012 when she first started as an intern. And for Jenna, working at PatientsLikeMe is personal. Her father was diagnosed with ALS when she was just eight years old, and so, being part of PatientsLikeMe is especially meaningful for her.

For ALS Awareness Month this year, Jenna volunteered to talk on camera about how the condition impacted her childhood; sharing how a family banded together to care for a father, husband and friend.

“I learned that life is precious,” she says. “And I learned at an early age that it’s important to do what you love and do something that makes a difference.”

Hear her story!

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“TransFatty Lives”: An interview with ALS filmmaker Patrick O’Brien

Posted May 19th, 2016 by

Meet Patrick O’Brien, a.k.a. “TransFatty,” whom we met through our friend and longtime PatientsLikeMe ALS member Steve Saling (Smooth S) after catching up with him earlier this year.

Patrick is one of Steve’s housemates at the Steve Saling ALS Residence at the Chelsea Jewish Foundation’s Leonard Florence Center for Living and he’s also an award-winning filmmaker.

Back in 2005 when he was diagnosed with ALS, Patrick was making his mark on New York City as a rising filmmaker, DJ, infamous prankster and internet sensation. He called himself “TransFatty,” as a nod to his love of junk food. After his diagnosis, he decided to keep the cameras rolling – on himself. “TransFatty Lives” is the result of a decade of footage that shows his progression with the disease and it’s gone on to win the Audience Choice Awards at both the 2015 Tribeca and Milan Film Festivals.

We visited Patrick last month to chat with him about the film and life in general. Here’s what he had to say.

“TransFatty Lives” is available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Xbox.



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Patients as Partners: Gus and Maria talk partnering with your caregiver

Posted May 11th, 2016 by

The 2015-2016 Team of Advisors recently introduced the Partnership Principles. They’ve been sharing personal stories about these principles in action to kick-off conversations on partnering with all sorts of people — medical students, clinical trial coordinators, and “normals.” Today, Team of Advisors member Gus along with his wife and caregiver, Maria, share about their special relationship and how they work together as a team.

How has it been managing your dual roles of husband/wife and now patient/caregiver? What is the biggest challenge in this?

Gus: I believe the hardest thing has been always feeling I was in control and didn’t need anyone’s help or assistance. But how the tables have turned, I lean on my wife more than ever before, with the understanding I try every day to be as independent as possible. I truly see how tired my wife gets and how frustrated this illness has made her feel. I respect her time and appreciate everything she does for me. I sometimes push her towards taking a time out and spending time for her. She needs time for herself and to unwind from all of this.

The listening part sometimes gets very difficult, because I see things and don’t communicate them correctly. It’s so difficult and so frustrating because I just want to get up and fix it. I feel like things are getting better, I try so hard to shut my mouth and then listen.

I sometimes feel bad because I want or need help but I don’t want to bother or ask for it. She will always ask me if I need help and I just say no. I feel bothered inside and hurt because she only wants to help me. But I’m working on it every day.

Maria: Gus and I have always worked together. He always tried to make life as comfortable as possible for us all these years. Other than my continuing to work full-time and having to make sure that he has all he needs, my biggest challenge is making sure Gus is getting the proper nutrition and is made as comfortable as possible so that I don’t have to worry too much about him while I’m at work.

What are some new things you’ve learned about each other throughout this?

Maria: Gus is probably impressed with how I’m slowly becoming more patient. Since he has always been the more patient and nurturing one, I am now somehow finding myself being more like him. And I continue to be amazed by his spirit. Even after such a devastating diagnosis as ALS, he was only down temporarily. Although he isn’t able to do very much physically, he continues to be the head and shoulders of our household. He keeps us going strong.

Can you describe the ways you partner? What works and what doesn’t?

Gus: Living on the same page of life, what does this mean? Having an understanding and knowing when to ask for help and doing the simplest things you can do.

Sharing responsibilities sometimes can be tricky. Our bodies may not function but our minds are just fine. Not making a mess and doing your best in every way possible. And no nagging, this is the worst thing possible. And don’t take her or him for granted because we need each other for support and good health. Counting your wins and telling yourself you got this. Sharing your positive thoughts and negative feelings when possible, not holding things inside. Sharing your wins and losses.

Communicating and openness in all ways will make things so much better. I tell my wife everything, good or bad I don’t have anyone else who understands me better than she does.

Maria: Currently I have just been going full speed ahead – on autopilot – dancing as fast as I can. There are a million things I could come up with but I haven’t yet figured out what works and what doesn’t – still trying. My only tip is to continue to stay as informed as possible regarding ALS research and things people have tried to live more comfortably with the disease. Also to help your partner have a better quality of life by trying to find things that will naturally relieve some of the discomfort brought on by ALS.

What’s the most important piece of advice you can give to other couples in your situation?

Gus: The first word that comes to mind is patience (and more patience). There are no right or wrong ways of doing things, it’s just how both of you react and what action or plans have been discussed. First comes the falling or not being able to use your hands or walking without use of a walker. It’s different for everyone, but the most important part of this process would be communicating and understanding each other’s feelings and how this illness will change everything. It’s hard, and very challenging for my wife, coming and going I can only imagine the feeling or heartache she endures. To have compassion and empathy really helps.

Maria: Stay optimistic – one never knows how ALS will progress. We have found that with the proper physical therapy and nutrition (Gus has chosen to go with massage therapy, acupuncture, and a gluten-free diet) he continues to get around using a walker. And if his swallowing or breathing starts to feel compromised, he lets his acupuncturist know and he’s good for a few days.

Final thoughts from Gus: Take every day step-by-step, don’t feel helpless or sadness, your attitude and thoughts create a better environment for both of you and your family. For me it’s called positive in and positive out, every word or action matters and your facial expression matters the most. You must become a good poker player, not showing what’s in your hand. Because when you show discomfort or anger your better half will feel like he or she is to blame. Yes, it’s tough and not easy, but what can you do, go with it and create the best situation possible.

It’s a fact we all struggle with something. No matter what the issues are, they’re important to us. Some of us may have financial debt issues, and others health concerns, and anything else you could think about. When you are ill, sometimes the solutions are a bit more challenging. And that’s where our partners and caregivers come in. The simplest things are now the hardest or a bit more challenging in completing our tasks. Some of us may not have partners or caregivers, so then what? How do we cope with the issues at hand, where do we go for help? Finding the answers to our questions sometimes may be difficult and strenuous. There are many sites and forums that can assist us like PatientsLikeMe, and other blogs sites associated with partners and caregivers.

Families may not have the resources available to them, finding the information provided will make a difference one patient at a time. Finding help and support is vital – every day someone requires assistance. I believe everyone deserves a helping hand when possible, no matter what. So when your loved one becomes ill and funds are low, they need a place and solutions to their questions and concerns. Sending them to a site may not be the answer, but speaking to them makes it better. Just having someone to listen and allowing them to vent their frustrations is so important. It’s our duty as civilized human beings. Giving back to those who can’t and providing the information is key.


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A new precision medicine program for ALS patients

Posted May 4th, 2016 by

Last month, we talked about precision medicine and what it could mean for psychiatry. What’s precision medicine again? It’s a relatively new way of preventing and treating illnesses that takes into consideration people’s genetic makeup, environment and lifestyle.1

Today — just in time for ALS Awareness Month — we’re digging deeper into how it can be used to treat ALS. Our partners at the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI) run the world’s first and largest precision medicine program in ALS, and here’s what it’s all about…

How the program works

The goal of ALS TDI’s program is to identify subgroups of ALS and possible treatments for them using a patient’s personal data, genomics and iPS cell technology … and then test the most effective treatments in a clinical trial.2 Check out the graphic below for an overview of what program participants can expect (tap to make the image larger).



If you’re living with ALS, head over to the forum and tell us what you think about using precision medicine in ALS care — would you participate in a program like ALSTDI’s? Add your voice and let’s learn more, together.


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1 www.nih.gov/precisionmedicine


“Technology is the cure”: An update with member Steve Saling (SmoothS)

Posted April 5th, 2016 by

Recently, we paid a follow-up visit to ALS member Steve Saling (Smooth S) to see what he’s been up to and talk about future plans.

When we last spoke with him in 2012, Steve was using his expertise as an architect and his interest in technology to spearhead the ALS Residence Initiative (ALSRI), starting with the Steve Saling ALS Residence at the Chelsea Jewish Foundation’s Leonard Florence Center for Living in Chelsea, Mass.

The ALSRI has grown into a series of fully automated residences – now in multiple cities nationwide – that allow pALS the freedom of independent living alongside 24-hour care. And just this past Sunday, the Dapper McDonald ALS Residence officially opened as the second residence at the Leonard Florence Center for Living.

“Until medicine proves otherwise, technology is the cure,” Steve says.

Watch what else he has to say in this interview.

For more on Steve and footage of the ALS Residence, here’s the rest of his story!


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A year of milestones for Team Gleason – and they’re not slowing down.

Posted March 15th, 2016 by

Three years ago, we posted a piece on Steve Gleason, former NFL player for the New Orleans Saints. Diagnosed with ALS in 2011, Steve has made it his mission to spread awareness and advocacy. Since then, Team Gleason has been hard at work to improve the lives of those living with ALS and 2015 proved a year of milestones.

Check out their year in review:

January: While attending the State of the Union Address, Steve had a meeting with Secretary Burwell, the Heads of Medicare and Medicare Advocacy, and leaders in the House and Senate.

April: In Los Angeles, the “Gleason” Project Red Carpet Premier took place and IMG Films announced their full support and partnership on the documentary film.

May: Microsoft released eye drive technology research as a viable solution for mobilizing power chairs. Through their alliance, Team Gleason is working with Microsoft to make this technology more widely available while Steve continues to test it.

Later in May, Steve addressed the Louisiana Legislature and leaders at the Department of Health and Human Services to advocate for benefits for those most vulnerable.

June: Team Gleason participated in the #SmackdownALS campaign with Microsoft in the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Also in June, Steve received the George Halas Award by the Sportswriters Association.

July: After unanimously passing both the House and Senate, the Steve Gleason Act was signed into law by the President of the United States on July 31st. This law ensures full access to and ownership of communication devices through Medicare.

September: Team Gleason initiated Answer ALS and announced $22 million in funding for its research focus.

October: On October 1st, the Steve Gleason Act went into effect! (Side note: Yes, even though it was signed into law in July, this reflects Medicare timelines that impacted the date it went into effect.)

November: Team Gleason and Answer ALS partnered with the NFL and KBS to create the ALS Awareness campaign, “Game Changer.” The first NFL ALS campaign boldly states, “The NFL has had 1,000s of game changers. ALS needs 1.”

December: The documentary, “Gleason,” was accepted into the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. “Sundance with Steve” is the 30-minute special about the premier of “Gleason” at the Festival in January.

And there’s no rest in sight for Steve and the friends and family who make up Team Gleason. When asked what are some things they plan to take on this year, Associate Executive Director Clare Durrett had this to say:

“While we feel like we have reached some of our goals this past year, there is still so much to do. Much of 2015 was focused on addressing access to Assistive Technology and ultimately the passage of the Steve Gleason Act, but that issue was just one small cog in the wheel of challenges for people living with ALS.

“Our goals are to continue pursuing more advanced and innovative technology, while finding avenues to make it more accessible and affordable. We will always continue our mission to provide equipment and technology, create and offer adventures for people living with ALS and work toward increasing awareness for an ultimate treatment or cure.

“We are so thankful for forums like PatientsLikeMe. It is such an incredible resource for people living with or caring for someone with ALS to get shared information on life with ALS.”

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“Hope makes us strong.” – An interview with ALS caregiver Cathy

Posted February 12th, 2016 by

Meet Cathy (Catrin), who became a caregiver for her husband after he was diagnosed with bulbar onset ALS in January of 2015. As she learns to manage the dual roles of wife and caregiver, she has turned to the PatientsLikeMe community for help, encouragement and hope.

We took time to connect with her recently and this is what we learned… 

Tell us a bit about your life. How has it changed in the year since your husband’s diagnosis of ALS?

Living in suburban Nashville, my husband and I were enjoying his retirement. A former journalist and Corporate Communications Executive, we were busy keeping tabs on our family. One son living in our area, one son finishing college in Michigan and a daughter in Chicago. Before the diagnosis, we loved to take road trips. Before the diagnosis my husband loved to cook, he loved sitting on the patio, talking, drinking a beer and he loved to talk. His stories were endless. Being married to him for many years, I would, at times, roll my eyes. I had heard those stories many times before. But I loved them, nonetheless. Now, in the year since the diagnosis, we have all the kids back in Nashville. After learning their Dad was living with ALS, the kids packed their bags and moved home. We don’t take road trips anymore. His head drop makes travel uncomfortable. I am now learning to cook, hubby doesn’t eat anymore. We sit on the patio, but there is no beer. He still tells his stories, a bit, the text to speech “representative” tells them for him. I don’t roll my eyes anymore when I hear them. Now, I close my eyes and listen.

You’re new to being a caregiver. What is the most challenging thing about it?

Because I am a caregiver for my husband, the biggest challenge for me is knowing when to be caregiver and when to be a wife. As a caregiver, I am nurse, doctor, advocate, responsible for sussing out what is medically necessary and educating myself to gain an understanding of what is to come. As a caregiver, I have to administer tough love. As a wife, I just want to give him comfort and smother him in love. I want to magically cure him and have him back as he was. Since the caregiver understands that is not going to happen, I am slowly learning to merge the two roles.

What part of it do you enjoy or find rewarding?

I enjoy being an advocate. I truly and deeply believe a change is near for the ALS community. We must keep the momentum going. What is rewarding are the simple pleasures. A thank you from my husband for a back scratch, a hug from my kids … just because. A movie night with my friends or an encouraging word from a PLM friend. ALS has made me realize that the little moments of life are the rewards that matter (though a nice bottle of wine would be rewarding in itself).

You mention that your best friend has been a caregiver for both of her parents. Did that friendship in any way prepare you for your new role? If so, how?

My best friend has taught me love, patience, humor and perseverance. Watching her be a caregiver for her father with COPD (he passed away last May) and her mother with Alzheimer’s inspires me daily. She has shown me the wisdom of daily affirmations and how to find a quiet peace for my troubled soul. She is my hero. I don’t know what I would be without her.

What advice would you give to someone who has just become a caregiver for an ALS patient? Do you have any best practices yet to share?

My best advice would be to educate yourself. Read, learn, then learn some more. Do not rely on the medical community. Though your doctor may be brilliant, day-to-day management of this disease will be left to you. There are no easy answers. How ALS “behaves” for my husband is not how ALS will behave for you.  My best practices are maintaining humor. Keep your “patient” laughing as best you can. Many times my silly antics (disco lunchtime – complete with dance) have kept my husband from the depths of depression. Remind them that they are still a vital part of your life and your world will always and forever need them.

You often use the word “hope” in your posts. Like “Hope needs another cup of coffee,” “Hope loves tradition,” “Hope has more shopping.” Is this kind of like a personal mantra for you? 

Hope is, indeed, my mantra. I hold hope in high regard and expect those around my husband to subscribe to it. Without hope, we have nothing to hold on to. Hope makes us strong and keeps us stronger. Hope is the essence of life and our best defense. Hope knows ALS will be defeated. Our time has come.

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“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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