64 posts tagged “ALS”

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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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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Day-by-day, hand-in-hand

Posted February 28th, 2015 by


All around the world, everyone impacted by a rare disease is taking everything day-by-day. But they can take each day hand-in-hand with the help and support of others. Today, on Rare Disease Day (RDD), EURORDIS (Rare Diseases Europe) and its global partners are calling on everyone to lend a hand to anyone affected by a rare disease.

RDD’s international theme is “Living with a rare disease” because every patient’s story and needs are different, and only by sharing our experiences and raising awareness can we all hope to improve the lives of those living with a rare disease. It’s also about the million of parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends that are impacted and who are living day-by-day, hand-in-hand with rare disease patients.1

Check out the official video below:

According to the Global Genes Project, there are 350 million people living with a rare disease around the globe. Just how many is that? If you gathered those people into one country, it would be the third most-populous country in the world. There are more than 7,000 identified rare diseases, from skin conditions to progressive neurological disorders, and more are being discovered every day.2 Here’s how you can get involved in spreading the word:

Rare diseases have a personal connection with PatientsLikeMe – our co-founders’ brother, Stephen, was diagnosed with ALS in 1998, and their family’s experiences with the condition led to the beginning of PatientsLikeMe. In 2012, we partnered with the Global Genes Project to create the RARE Open Registry Project to help those diagnosed find others like them in one of the over 400 rare disease communities on the site, and launched the first open registry for people with alkaptonuria (AKU) with the AKU Society in early 2013. We also accelerated our focus on enhancing the idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) community through a collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim. And now, the IPF community on PatientsLikeMe is the largest open registry with more than 3,700 members …and counting.

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1 http://www.rarediseaseday.org/article/theme-of-the-year-living-with-a-rare-disease

2 http://globalgenes.org/rare-diseases-facts-statistics/


PatientsLikeMe Attends 4th Annual ALS TDI White Coat Affair

Posted February 19th, 2015 by

Back in November, a whole group from the PatientsLikeMe team came together for a great cause and attended the 4th annual A White Coat Affair gala benefiting the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI). ALS TDI, founded by PatientsLikeMe Co-Founder and Chairman Jamie Heywood in 1999, is the number one nonprofit biotechnology organization dedicated to developing effective treatments for ALS. All proceeds from the event directly fund the research being conducted at ALS TDI.

The charity gala was held right after ALS TDI’s 10th Annual Leadership Summit, which featured in-depth scientific presentations from researchers and “thought leaders” on scientific developments, the PALS’ perspective and advice from pharma and biotech leaders within the ALS community. For the past 10 years, the Leadership Summit has brought together members of the ALS community for an intimate gathering to connect on the state of ALS research and progress being made toward a treatment.

The PatientsLikeMe team and other attendees traveled to the Westin Copley Place Hotel in Boston for A White Coat Affair and a special evening complete with a cocktail hour, dinner and live music. While there were some lighthearted moments (such as a cocktail called the Mad Scientist) there were also some very emotional moments that reminded everyone why we were there – to raise funds and awareness for ALS research.

Highlights of the dinner program this year included a presentation from Lynne Nieto, husband of Augie Nieto. Augie is Chairman of the Board of ALS TDI and Chief Inspirational Officer for Augie’s Quest, which has raised more than $44 million to fund research at ALS TDI. Anthony Carbajal also gave a powerful speech. Anthony was recently diagnosed with familial ALS at 26 years old and takes care of his mother, who is living with ALS as well. Check out his story if you haven’t already, or visit KissMyALS.org.

570 guests and 20 PALS attended A White Coat Affair for a memorable night committed to raising funds toward ALS TDI’s efforts to develop effective treatments for ALS. To view more photos taken during the evening, visit the event’s Facebook page – and congratulations to ALS TDI on 16 years of cutting-edge ALS research and leadership!

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“The human spirit is more resilient than we think” – PatientsLikeMe member mmsan66 shares her journey with ALS

Posted January 29th, 2015 by

PatientsLikeMe member mmsan66 was diagnosed with ALS back in 2008, but she’s been fortunate to experience an unusually slow progression, which currently affects only her legs. As a college professor, financial planner and ALS advocate, she raises awareness through her work with the Massachusetts Chapter of the ALS Association. She even finds time to visit places like the Grand Canyon, and she shared all about her life in a PatientsLikeMe interview. Read below to learn about her personal journey. 

What was your diagnosis experience like? What were some of your initial symptoms?

I was diagnosed in 2008 at the age of 66 but, looking back, had definitely exhibited symptoms in 2007 or earlier. I had retired a few years prior, after a long career in Human Resource Management that included positions in the fields of health care, the Federal government, higher education (Northeastern University), and high technology (the former Digital Equipment Corporation).  But, rather than slow down and enjoy retirement, I started a second career in tax and financial planning. I became an IRS Enrolled Agent (EA), earned a Certificate in Financial Planning, and obtained my securities and insurance licenses.  I started my own business as a tax and financial advisor (Ames Hill Tax Services) and also began teaching undergraduate courses in Finance, Accounting, and Investments as an Adjunct Instructor at several local colleges and universities.

I definitely noticed a change in 2007, when I experienced a number of falls (for no apparent reason), culminating in a fall while on vacation in Florida in which I fractured my left wrist. Upon returning home, I scheduled appointments with several specialists to have my legs checked out and, after a series of neurological tests, received a diagnosis of ALS at the Lahey Clinic in July of 2008. I wasn’t completely stunned, as I had done a lot of internet research on diseases with symptoms similar to mine, but had gradually eliminated them one-by-one as each test result came back negative. However, like all PALS, I was hoping against hope that my suspicions would prove false. The one thing that kept going through my mind in the days following my diagnosis was that my life—— as I knew it—– would soon be over.

How has your ALS progressed over the past few years? 

In 2009, after learning that the average life span of a PALS was 3-5 years after diagnosis, my husband and I decided to sell our home of 36 years rather than modify it. Fortunately, they were in the process of building a luxury apartment complex on a hill in town, and we were able to move into a brand new handicapped-accessible apartment, complete with roll-in shower, and overlooking a pond complete with wildlife.

By 2010 I was no longer able to walk at all, and had to rely solely on a power/ manual wheelchair, as well as a scooter. Although confined to a wheelchair, I still maintain my active tax practice, preparing individual, corporate, and trust tax returns as well as representing my clients at IRS audits. When I realized it would be too difficult to travel to and from the various campuses at which I taught, I applied and was hired as an online instructor by the University of Phoenix, where I’ve been teaching Personal Financial Planning since 2010. At this point in time, after living with the disease for 8 years, still only my legs are affected. Thankfully, I still maintain my upper body strength, and my ability to speak, swallow, breathe, etc. remains completely normal. Somehow, I can’t help but feel that this slow progression might be due in part to the upbeat, positive outlook I continually strive to maintain, and the fact that I keep very busy with my family, clients, students, attending online CPE seminars (to maintain my professional licenses), and participating in ALS fundraising walks.

We read you like to travel – what are some things you’ve done to make traveling easier?

We’ve done some travelling since I’ve been unable to walk, but nothing extensive in the last couple of years. Our last long-distance trip was to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and several other National Parks such as Bryce and Zion. At the time, however, I was still able to transfer with my arms from my wheelchair into the passenger seat of our van. Now, since my legs are completely useless, a handicapped van is a necessity.  We will be going to Austin, Texas in October for a niece’s wedding. We’ve found travelling is a lot easier if you call ahead to lay everything on with the airlines. Reserving a wheelchair or a power chair at each destination makes things a lot easier. And, it’s of the utmost importance when making hotel reservations to specify a “wheelchair accessible” room, not just one that’s “handicapped accessible” (a motel that has a roll-in shower is the best!).  Also, contacting local ALS organizations in the areas you plan to visit well in advance can be very beneficial. They can direct you to rental agencies or, better yet, lend you the mobility equipment you will need while you’re there.

Can you tell us a little about your work and advocacy with the Massachusetts Chapter of the ALS Association?

A few years ago, I decided to become involved in ALS Advocacy with the Massachusetts Chapter of the ALS Association. I was invited to speak to groups of scientists at Biogen Idec in Cambridge, MA on the topic of living with ALS, and was interviewed by the Boston Globe and WBUR radio when Biogen discontinued the Dexpramipexole trials. I also attended the NEALS Consortium’s first Clinical Research Learning Institute held in Clearwater, FL in October 2011. There I was fortunate to personally meet many fellow PALS from around the US, as well as prominent researchers and clinicians engaged in the fight against ALS. (I also had the pleasure of meeting Emma Willey from PatientsLikeMe.)

In addition, I have spoken to groups at various other fundraising events sponsored by organizations such as ALSA, the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALSTDI), etc. and have represented these organizations at ALS Awareness events at Fenway Park. Because of my visibility as a PALS, I was elected to the Board of Directors of the ALS Association’s Mass chapter, and currently serve in the capacity of Secretary. 

What have you learned about yourself that has surprised you and/or your loved ones? 

I think the first and foremost thing I learned, is that the human spirit is more resilient than we think. I would never have imagined that I could be diagnosed with such a terminal disease, and still continue on with my life as best I could, finding pleasure in simple daily activities. We had travelled extensively around the world in the early years of our 47-year marriage (lived in Hong Kong for 2 years) and planned to travel internationally once again once we retired and our daughter embarked on a career of her own. Now, I appreciate just being able to get into our handicapped van and take local day trips with my husband. Never mind viewing the Taj Mahal by moonlight, now an excursion to the grocery store or taking in a local college hockey game is a welcome diversion and takes some planning.

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Open funding for open science to accelerate ALS research: An interview with Prize4Life CEO Shay Rishoni

Posted January 6th, 2015 by

Just about a year ago, we teamed up with Sage Bionetworks and TED Fellow Dr. Max Little for an ongoing Parkinson’s disease (PD) project called the Patient Voice Analysis (PVA).

 

The big idea: combine data from two sources – phone-based voice recordings and patient reported data from PatientsLikeMe’s Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (PDRS). Then, make the de-identified data sets available to the broader research community on Sage Bionetworks’ cloud-based computational research platform (http://www.synapse.org) to develop new tools to track PD disease progression.

We were overwhelmed by the response from the PatientsLikeMe PD community. More than 650 members provided 851 voice samples, and 779 of those were matched to the PDRS symptom data entered.

 

What’s next for open science?

Sage Bionetworks is working with the distributed DREAM community and ALS non-profit Prize4Life on another open science challenge alongside called the ALS Stratification DREAM Challenge. How does it all fit together?

The “Fund the Prize” campaign is the first of its kind effort to make the path for accelerating drug development completely open – the patient data is open access, the research is open, global and collaborative, and the funding is crowd-based.

The ALS Stratification Challenge, opening in Spring 2015, will be a worldwide cloud-based competition designed to spur the development of quantitative solutions that can identify which ALS patients’ disease will progress rapidly and which will progress more slowly. Prize4Life provides the largest ALS clinical trials database in the world. Sage Bionetworks and DREAM have created a synergistic competition concept and cloud-based computing platform that includes forums, webinars and a “leaderboard” that shows whose model is working best.

The individual or team with the best solution wins the prize – a $37,000 donation that the Challenge is asking everyone to help raise through the INDIEGOGO “Fund The Prize” campaign. The prize will help incentivize innovators from around the world to take part, and 100% of every donation goes towards the prize.

Helping spread the word

Prize4Life CEO Shay Rishoni is a 48 year-old dad of two boys and was an Ironman triathlete before being diagnosed with ALS in August 2011. Within three months he saw his ability to use his arms weaken considerably while no other body parts were affected. Less than two years later he was completely paralyzed and breathing with a ventilator. We caught up with him to help spread the word and learn more about the Challenge, why he thinks the prize is so important and why he works so hard.

Can you tell us a little about your own journey with ALS?

I was diagnosed with ALS 3.5 years ago, when I was 45 years old, a CEO of a company, an Ironman, a pilot, a military colonel (in res.) and a family man with two young sons. Given all of that, receiving a diagnosis of ALS was of course not what I had planned! But I knew that like everything else in life, I will make sure to stay true to myself and my values nonetheless- to stay positive, active and entrepreneurial. That meant in my public life to fight for the development of treatments- and a cure!- for ALS, for current patients like me, but mostly for future patients. In my private life, as a husband, as a friend and as a father to fight to feel and know that Life is Good, and winning is a way of life. Although by now I am fully paralyzed, I believe that as long as I dream up plans and then work to make them happen, I am invincible.

You can see more of me explaining it in this video of my TED talk.

How did you become involved with Prize4Life and the ALS Stratification Dream Challenge?

I first learned about Prize4Life from its founder, Avi Kremer, who is also an ALS patient. Avi was diagnosed with ALS 10 years ago, as a 29 years old Harvard Business school student striving to make finding a cure for ALS a viable business. He was the recipient of the 2011 Israeli Prime minister award for innovation and entrepreneurship in the non-profit sector. I was inspired by his strength, courage and sophistication, and with Prize4Life model and important work and I knew that this is a framework with which I will do important meaningful things for ALS research, and I become the CEO in 2013.

One such important thing is the ALS Stratification Dream challenge. I think it’s a unique and highly innovative initiative. From a patient perspective it addresses a critical question- How can patients with a rare disease create meaningful solutions for their own illness? And the answer is by engaging as many stakeholders as possible. The “Fund the Prize” campaign is the first of its kind effort to make the path for accelerating drug development completely open- the patient data is open access, the research is open, global and collaborative, and the funding is crowd-based. It builds on Prize4Life’s database of ALS patients- the largest ALS clinical trials database in the world. Sage Bionetworks and DREAM, our collaborators, have created a synergistic competition concept and cloud-based computing platform to allow a planetary republic to use the data. Together we will get computational solutions that will tell us why patients are so diverse- from Lou Gehrig’s succumbing to the disease within two years to Stephen Hawking’s 50 years odyssey with ALS. The Challenge, opening in Spring, 2015, will be a worldwide cloud-based competition designed to spur the development of computer algorithms that effectively predict which ALS patients will experience rapid disease progression and which patients will live longer.

Why do you think the prize model is so important?

Prize4Life’s prize model is inspired by similar programs such as X-prize for space travel, demonstrated to foster meaningful research. These programs allow bringing awareness and new minds into a field and generate measurable results for well-defined goals. Prize4Life wants to bring all these benefits to ALS- awareness, new minds and measurable, highly needed, results.

Prize4Life aspires to span broad fields of innovation for their importance for ALS: we gave a $1M prize for a medical device that serves as a biomarker for ALS, another prize for developing algorithms that can predict disease progression and we are running a prize for a druggable cure. We believe that biologists, chemists, engineers, clinicians, software developers and all citizen scientists can bring a meaningful change in ALS.

Prize4Life and DREAM have already demonstrated the power of open Challenges to advance ALS disease research. The first ALS Challenge, conducted in 2012 when Prize4Life’s open ALS patient database contained data from about 1,000 patients, leveraged insights from over 1,000 solvers from 63 countries to identify novel methods that have the potential to reduce the costs of ALS drug development by millions of dollars. The winning approaches are now being used in the development of several ALS treatments, and are described in a recent article in Nature Biotechnology (here is coverage by Science news).

Why do you work so hard?

Because I have a lot to accomplish. (“If not me than who? If not now than when?”) ALS is still an orphan disease, still is relatively unknown, and we still see tremendous potential to realize- computer scientists can create solutions for better treatments and care, engineers can create better assistive technology, biologists can create better drugs… I believe everyone can be part of the victory over ALS.

What’s one thing about ALS that you think everyone should know?

That we, the ALS patients, even when we can no longer speak, still have a voice. That we still have big dreams and still work to make them happen, and if enough people will work together, we will win the fight over ALS.

…and that ALS patients can love and be loved.

How do you see open science evolving in the future?

I think open science will only become more important in fostering innovative research ideas from diverse communities. It will allow everyone to be part of the solutions, and that means many more solutions!

Where can someone make a donation to help fund the prize?

“Fund the Prize- Solving ALS Together” is a crowdfunding campaign (running now on Indiegogo.com) and intended to provide the prize money for the Challenge and thereby to bring together renowned scientists worldwide and drive innovation. The crowdfunding will run until January 22, 2015.

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2014 recap – a year of sharing in the PatientsLikeMe community

Posted December 23rd, 2014 by

Another year has come and gone here at PatientsLikeMe, and as we started to look back at who’s shared their experiences, we were quite simply amazed. More than 30 members living with 9 different conditions opened up for a blog interview in 2014. But that’s just the start. Others have shared about their health journeys in short videos and even posted about their favorite food recipes.

A heartfelt thanks to everyone who shared their experiences this year – the PatientsLikeMe community is continuing to change healthcare for good, and together, we can help each other live better as we move into 2015.

Team of Advisors
In September, we announced the first-ever PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors, a group of 14 members that will work with us this year on research-related initiatives. They’ve been giving regular feedback about how PatientsLikeMe research can be even more helpful, including creating a “guide” that highlights new standards for researchers to better engage with patients. We introduced everyone to three so far, and look forward to highlighting the rest of team in 2015.

  • Meet Becky – Becky is a former family nurse practitioner, and she’s a medically retired flight nurse who is living with epilepsy and three years out of treatment for breast cancer.
  • Meet Lisa – Lisa was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in 2008, and just recently stopped working as a full-time executive due to non-motor PD symptoms like loss of function, mental fatigue and daytime insomnolence. Her daughter was just married in June.
  • Meet Dana – Dana is a poet and screenplay writer living in New Jersey and a very active member of the mental health and behavior forum. She’s living with bipolar II, and she’s very passionate about fighting the stigma of mental illness.

The Patient Voice
Five members shared about their health journeys in short video vignettes.

  • Garth – After Garth was diagnosed with cancer, he made a promise to his daughter Emma: he would write 826 napkin notes so she had one each day in her lunch until she graduated high school.
  • Letitia – has been experiencing seizures since she was ten years old, and she turned to others living with epilepsy on PatientsLikeMe.
  • Bryan – Bryan passed away earlier in 2014, but his memory lives on through the data he shared about idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He was also an inaugural member of the Team of Advisors.
  • Becca – Becca shared her experiences with fibromyalgia and how she appreciates her support on PatientsLikeMe.
  • Ed – Ed spoke about his experiences with Parkinson’s disease and why he thinks it’s all a group effort.

Patient interviews
More than 30 members living with 9 different conditions shared their stories in blog interviews.

Members living with PTSD:

  • David Jurado spoke in a Veteran’s podcast about returning home and life after serving
  • Lucas shared about recurring nightmares, insomnia and quitting alcohol
  • Jess talked about living with TBI and her invisible symptoms
  • Jennifer shared about coping with triggers and leaning on her PatientsLikeMe community

Member living with Bipolar:

  • Eleanor wrote a three-part series about her life with Bipolar II – part 1, part 2, part 3

Members living with MS:

  • Fred takes you on a visual journey through his daily life with MS
  • Anna shared about the benefits of a motorized scooter, and a personal poem
  • Ajcoia, Special1, and CKBeagle shared how they raise awareness through PatientsLikeMeInMotion™
  • Nola and Gary spoke in a Podcast on how a PatientsLikeMe connection led to a new bathroom
  • Tam takes you into a day with the private, invisible pain of MS
  • Debbie shared what it’s like to be a mom and blogger living with MS
  • Shep spoke about keeping his sense of humor through his journey with MS
  • Kim shared about her fundraising efforts through PatientsLikeMeInMotion™
  • Jazz1982 shared how she eliminates the stigma surrounding MS
  • Starla talked about MS awareness and the simple pleasure of riding a motorcycle

Members living with Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis:

Members living with Parkinson’s disease:

  • Dropsies shared about her frustrating Parkinson’s diagnosis experience and how diabetes might impact her future eating habits

Members living with ALS:

  • Steve shared the story behind his film, “My Motor Neuron Disease Made Easier”
  • Steven shared how technology allows him to participate in many events
  • Steve shared about creating the Steve Saling ALS residence and dealing with paramedics
  • Steve told why he participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge
  • Dee revealed her tough decision to insert a feeding tube
  • John shared about his cross-country road trip with his dog, Molly

Members living with lung cancer:

  • Vickie shared about her reaction to getting diagnosed, the anxiety-filled months leading up to surgery and what recovery was like post-operation
  • Phil shared the reaction she had after her blunt diagnosis, her treatment options and her son’s new tattoo

Members living with multiple myeloma:

  • AbeSapien shared about his diagnosis experience with myeloma, the economic effects of his condition and his passion for horseback riding

Caregiver for a son living with AKU:

  • Alycia and Nate shared Alycia’s role and philosophy as caregiver to young Nate, who is living with AKU

Food for Thought
Many members shared their recipes and diet-related advice on the forums in 2014.

  • April – first edition, and what you’re making for dinner
  • May – nutrition questions and the primal blueprint
  • June – getting sleepy after steak and managing diet
  • July – chocolate edition
  • August – losing weight and subbing carbs
  • September – fall weather and autumn recipes
  • Dropsies – shared her special diabetes recipes for Diabetes Awareness Month

Patients as Partners
More than 6,000 members answered questions about their health and gave feedback on the PatientsLikeMe Open Research Exchange (ORE) platform. ORE gives patients the chance to not only check an answer box, but also share their opinion about each question in a researcher’s health measure. It’s all about collaborating with patients as partners to create the most effective tools for measuring disease.

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“Perseverance, patience and acceptance” – PatientsLikeMe member Steve shares what it’s like to live with MND

Posted November 14th, 2014 by

Those three words describe how PatientsLikeMe member Steve says he has adapted to life with motor neuron disease (MND). He was diagnosed with MND (also known as ALS) in 2007, and technology has helped Steve navigate the challenges of living with ALS while raising three children. He’s also made a video about his journey, called “Motor Neuron Disease Made Easier.” Steve spoke with us about the decisions that come with a MND diagnosis, the inspiration for his film and “how adaptable one can be in the face of adversity.” Read more about Steve’s story below and head to his blog to watch his film.

Looking back over the last 7 years since your diagnosis with ALS/MND, is there anything you’d like to have known sooner that has helped you along your journey?

I think I was fairly pragmatic about researching the condition from the outset, so there haven’t been many surprises apart from the fact that I am still here 7 years later (and I just realized it’s actually 7 years to the hour as I write). One of the difficulties with the disease is the uncertainty of the rate or nature of its progression. There is so much equipment, mostly hideously expensive, that you will need if you want to mitigate the effects of the disease – wheelchairs, hoists, adapted vehicles, communication aids, modifications to your home, the list goes on. But if you don’t know how long, for instance, you will be able to use a standing hoist, you can’t assess whether it’s worth spending the £2000 (about $3,000USD) on one. I know there’s a degree of uncertainty with the prognosis of many illnesses but I can’t think of another which comes close to the complexity of MND.

You’ve documented your experiences in your film “My Motor Neuron Disease Made Easier” – can you share a little about your inspiration for the project?

The thought of having MND without the internet is terrifying. The amount of information available regarding equipment and solutions to our multitude of challenges is staggering. However there aren’t many websites, which bring everything together. And many have information without presenting it in a real world context. So I thought that a video demonstrating most of the equipment I use would be a simple and quick way for fellow sufferers to see what’s available, but more importantly seeing it being used. Furthermore, I have realized that for many issues there simply isn’t an off the shelf solution. And in my experience many of the healthcare professionals just aren’t very creative, so I wanted to share my ideas like the chin support, heel pressure reliever and hoisting techniques to others. Having made the video, the filmmaker, Bernard, wanted to expand the idea to how MND impacts on a family. Then finally I wanted a sixty seconds version, which could be potentially used as a hard-hitting awareness campaign. The 3000-word narrative took several days to type using eye movements, but I am proud of the results.

How has technology helped you cope with the impact of ALS/MND? Is there anything you can recommend for PALS who might not be as comfortable with technology?

Technology has undoubtedly made coping with the disease far easier. Having had over 20 years experience in IT, I appreciate that I am better equipped than most to adapt to new technology. But you really don’t need any technical ability to use an eyegaze system for communication purposes, which is the most important benefit it offers. Actually, initially I only used it for this purpose. It was only after I got more confident with eye control that I ventured out of the easy environment of The Grid 2 software and started using Windows directly. I am now able to do anything anyone else could do with a computer. It also allows me to participate with family life as I am able to control all the computers and network devices in the house, which means I can sort all the problems out. I am even in the process of buying a house using my eyes.

I arranged all the viewings, negotiated the price, organized quotes for adaptations, dealt with solicitors, scanned necessary documents, bought hoists and other equipment on Ebay, arranged dropped kerbs for wheelchair access with the council and will hopefully move before Christmas. The only thing my wife had to do was choose the sofa! So almost anything is still possible.

Your blog is testament to your incredibly busy family life! Being a father of three boys, what impact has ALS/MND had on your approach to parenting and family life?

I have to say that the impact of MND on my abilities as a father has been the hardest thing about this disease. My triplet sons were 6 years old when I was diagnosed and I was confined to a wheelchair by the time they were 8, and when they were 9 I could no longer talk to them. They are now nearly 14 and I am grateful that I am still here but we have missed out on so much, both physically and through communication.

The most obvious impact are the physical restrictions. Almost every activity that a parent enjoys with their kids has been denied to me, from kicking a ball around in a park to giving them a hug. But maybe a more important loss is that of communication.

Eyegaze is undeniably an incredible means of communication but it’s certainly not conducive to flowing conversations. Ten-year-old boys aren’t very interested in waiting around while you laboriously construct a sentence, especially if they think it’s finally going to read “no xbox for a week”! Trying to teach something using eyegaze or trying to discipline using eyegaze is at best frustrating and ineffective respectively. That’s not to say I don’t try but these are two of the most important roles of a parent, which for me have been severely compromised. However I am still able to contribute in other ways. Being able to control all the computers in the house means I can help out with IT related stuff. I have setup Minecraft servers for them and helped install mods, I have installed and monitored parental control software and setup backup facilities and  I have fixed virus problems.

When I could still drive my wheelchair independently and didn’t require a full time carer, we were still able to go out to places as a family regularly. But as the logistics of getting out got more complex, the family activities decreased, although this is equally contributable to the troglodyte tendencies of teenage boys.

What has been the most unexpected thing you have learned during your journey with ALS/MND? 

I guess it would be how adaptable one can be in the face of adversity. In one of my videos I mention remembering when I learnt about Stephen Hawking and thinking how can anyone live like that. It seemed so horrific. But I am living like that, and whilst I disagree with some PALS who say there are positive aspects to our situation, you do adapt to it if you develop these three key attributes – perseverance, patience and most importantly, ACCEPTANCE. I won’t say these are responsible for my longevity (that’s just down to good fortune), but they have made the last seven years bearable.

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The Theory of Everything

Posted November 6th, 2014 by

Between the Ice Bucket Challenge and movies like “You’re Not You” (about a classical pianist who is diagnosed with ALS), there has been a ton of awareness going on for ALS, with many efforts focused on the personal stories of people living with the neurological condition. And this month, ALS is being spotlighted again in a biographical movie coming out very soon.

“The Theory of Everything” is about the life of renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who has been living with ALS since the 1960s. Despite being given a grim diagnosis, he defied all odds and became one of the leading experts on theoretical physics and cosmology. Stephen Hawking’s story reminds us of the reality of ALS, but is also an inspiration to all who are living with motor neuron disease.

The movie premieres on November 7th in the U.S. – check out the trailer below.

 

As many out there might already now, movies like “You’re Not You” and “The Theory of Everything” hit close to home for the PatientsLikeMe family. In 1998, Stephen Heywood, the brother of our co-founders Ben and Jamie, was diagnosed with ALS. Their experiences – as a patient, as caregivers, and as a family led to the beginning of the online community patientslikeme.com.

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You’re Not You

Posted October 10th, 2014 by

There’s a greater sense of awareness around ALS lately. The IceBucketChallenge really shined a spotlight on a condition that many have heard of, but maybe not that many really understand. (If you missed it, see everyone here at PatientsLikeMe taking on the challenge, and what Steve, an ALS community member, thinks about it.

So it seems fitting that today there’s a new film coming out about what life with ALS is like. It’s called You’re Not You, and is based on the novel by Michelle Wildgen. Hilary Swank plays a successful classical pianist diagnosed with ALS. Emmy Rossum is also in the film as Bec, a directionless and brash young woman who becomes Kate’s full-time caregiver. This unlikely pair forms an intimate friendship and life-changing bond inspiring each other to live life to the fullest, while being brought together by the most challenging of circumstances. Through their unwavering support for one another, both women are moved to let go of who they were and discover who they are truly meant to be.

 

A special shout out and thank you to Hilary Swank, Emmy Rossum and Josh Duhamel for taking on the IceBucketChallenge, too!

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