53 posts tagged “ALS”

“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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Jamie delivers keynote presentation at DIA 2014

Posted October 7th, 2014 by

Our co-founder, Jamie Heywood, recently traveled to San Diego to receive the Drug Information Association’s (DIA) 2014 President’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in World Health. With the award in his hand and speaking to everyone who was attending the event, he accepted it on behalf of the quarter million PatientsLikeMe members (this is for all of you!).

During the DIA’s 50th annual meeting, Jamie gave the keynote address, and he touched upon his personal journey in the world of healthcare and patient-reported data. He spoke about his brother, Stephen Heywood, who passed away from ALS in 2006, and how Stephen inspired the creation of the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALSTDI) and PatientsLikeMe. Jamie also shared about “healthspan” and the potential that personal health data has to change the way we look at treatments and research. But that’s not all – watch the video below to hear everything Jamie said.

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“Bang for the buck.” PatientsLikeMe member Steve shares about his experiences with ALS and the IceBucketChallenge

Posted September 19th, 2014 by

Ice + water + video camera = a viral ALS awareness campaign that has spread over social media and the news like wildfire. Millions of dollars has been raised for ALS research while more and more, people are learning about this neurological condition. Recently, PatientsLikeMe member Steve (who has been living with ALS since 2009) took on the challenge, and we caught up with him to find out why. Steve shared about his own diagnosis experience, what he thinks about the ALS community on PatientsLikeMe and what he hopes to see come out of the IceBucketChallenge. Don’t forget to follow Steve on his own blog, too. He calls it Bachblog. 

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your diagnosis with ALS?

I first noticed an odd cramping in my left hand sometime during the summer of 2009 when I was 49 years old. That fall, I realized I no longer had the strength to use fingernail clippers with my left hand. At the time, I was playing pickup basketball two or three days a week. I began to notice that after one hour of basketball I was “wiped out” and that I was having difficulty taking longer shots.

In January 2010 I saw a doctor for a sports hernia related to basketball. At my wife’s insistence, I brought up the cramping in my hand. He took one look at me (I was shirtless) and noted that I had fairly significant atrophy of the left arm. He referred me for an EMG, which I had a few days later.

Within a couple of months I got my neurologist to reluctantly admit that she believed I probably had ALS. She referred me to the University of Minnesota ALS clinic and, about a year later in February of 2011, I was given a definitive diagnosis.

Because I am a U.S. Navy veteran and the VA treats ALS as a “presumed service-related condition,” I am very well taken care of by the government. I am very fortunate in this respect and I wish all PALs had a similar level of support.

I retired in August 2011 as a computer programmer/analyst and UNIX systems administrator. My wife and I (with, at times, other members of my family including two daughters) have traveled quite a bit since my diagnosis: Hawaii, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and a Baltic cruise. I feel fortunate to have enjoyed years of relatively good health. However, I have declined to the point where any significant future travel would be very difficult.

Closer to home, I continue to enjoy family, reading, writing, online and (occasionally, with help) club and tournament Scrabble, trivia competitions, birding, and the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx. In the past two years I have created crossword puzzles that I have shared on my blog. I have been very happy to walk both of my daughters “down the aisle” in the past year and to welcome two great guys to our family.

You called the IceBucketChallenge a “seemingly ridiculous internet meme” in your video. Why did you decide to take on the challenge?

At first I thought that it was a curious way to spread ALS awareness and not much more. Many of the videos I had seen barely mentioned ALS and few included appeals for donations. But that soon changed, and I began to read of the astounding amount of money being raised.

My team had raised around $7000 in two previous ALSA walks, but I was not planning to participate this year for a variety of reasons. I decided that I would use the ALSIceBucketChallenge to make a contribution this year.

There are a bunch of ALS organizations people can donate to. Why did you choose to call out ALS TDI in your video?

I believe that the ALSA, while not perfect, does a lot of good work on behalf of our community. But I know that only about 27 percent of money donated to the organization is dedicated to research. There are justifiable reasons for this figure, but in the spirit of this challenge I wanted to raise money specifically for research. I have been very impressed by the work and commitment of ALS TDI. I believe they offer a lot of “bang for the buck” and that their commitment to openly sharing what they learn is absolutely essential to the overall effort of finding a cure for ALS.

You’ve been part of the PatientsLikeMe community for more than 3 years! How has connecting and sharing with others living with ALS helped you?

I cannot begin to enumerate all that I have learned from the site. The experiences of PALs who have lived with this disease for longer than I have – and, sadly, those who have died – provide such a wealth of experience and advice. Every patient has a different experience with this disease, but there is nothing I have gone through or will go through that someone else has not faced. PatientsLikeMe has been and will continue to be a valuable resource as I struggle to meet each new challenge.

It looks like you update your Functional Rating Scale on PatientsLikeMe a lot. Why do you donate your health data? What does donating your health data mean to you and to research?

I try to update my FRS every time I have an appointment and am evaluated on the scale by healthcare professionals. If I had to do this over, I might have chosen to do it consistently every month.

During my participation in the dexpramipexole drug trial, my FRS scores should have been particularly helpful for researchers and PALS interested in the drug. I continue to contribute my numbers as I do not know how and when an aggregate comparison of participants’ scores may be useful.

We’re all working to find a cure for ALS, but what research advancements do you hope to see in the short term?

I believe, as do such brilliant PALs and advocates as Steve Saling, Steve Gleason and Eric Valor, that until a cure or effective treatments for the disease are found, technology IS the cure. I hope to see continuing refinements of the high-tech solutions to many of the challenges presented by this disease.

Support for research into assistive technologies and for sophisticated but expensive ALS residences is important.

As more and more people learn about ALS through the IceBucketChallenge, what’s something you think they might not understand about the condition that you’d like to share?

I know that PALs who have lost the ability to communicate or who communicate with much difficulty are often assumed to be somehow compromised mentally. They are talked down to or assumed to be deaf as well as mute. In most cases, nothing could be further from the truth. I have not experienced much of this yet, but the assumption or even the appearance of the assumption that we are unable to think, feel, make decisions and speak (even if technologically assisted) for ourselves is profoundly discouraging.

Were you part of the PALS/CALS group that sent the letter urging the ALSA to donate their funds to ALS TDI? If so, can you explain a little about the letter and why the group felt it was so important to send to ASLA?

I did not contribute to the creation of this letter but I did sign it. I think it is important for the ALSA to honor the wishes of the vast majority of contributors to this campaign and spend this money on research.

Having said that, I do not believe that it is necessarily a good idea to spend it all immediately. This windfall will not happen again. It is important that any research efforts funded by this money are sustainable. A research effort that spends a large amount of funds upfront without a realistic prospect of continuing support is a dead end. I would like to see the ALSA commit to long-term support for a few of the best and brightest independent research efforts. To researchers who are open and committed to sharing their efforts. Big pharma need not apply. To give these independent researchers assurance that their support will not dry up next year or the year after that is critically important. Therefore, not all of this money need be spent this year. It does need to be committed to research and invested wisely. This will be a challenge, but it is very important. More than ever before, ALSA needs to be transparent and responsive to its constituents in this matter.


“Speak up!” PatientsLikeMe member Dee speaks about her journey with ALS

Posted September 15th, 2014 by

 

There’s been a lot of awareness going on for ALS with the IceBucketChallenge, and to help keep the momentum going, PatientsLikeMe member Dee (redrockmama) shared her personal experiences with the neurological condition. She made the decision to install a feeding tube early in her journey, and now she is managing her weight through overnight supplements. Read on to learn more about her ALS story and why she thinks every person living with ALS should become their own best advocate.

 

Tell us a little about yourself and how you are doing, Dee.

I am 62, married and a mother and grandmother. I have bulbar onset of ALS. I have always been very active and independent to a fault. I was raised horseback riding and still have a horse. I am told my disease is progressing slowly but of course to me it doesn’t feel that way.

Many people in the community talk about how finding an official diagnosis isn’t easy – what was your experience like? 

I actually found out fairly quickly. My symptoms started in April 2013. First doctor thought it was a stroke, second told me it was stress and of course they did MRI’s and blood tests, basic neurological exam and a stress test. Third doctor did an EMG. That was June 2013. Finally hearing someone say it out loud was initially a relief. That feeling didn’t last long.

In the ALS forum, you wrote about your decision to get a feeding tube in February. How has the operation changed your everyday life?

My first doctor told me I had to lose 15 % of my weight for him to order a feeding tube put in. Now understand, my first symptom was slurred speech and within days, difficultly swallowing. We had several issues with this doctor and clinic so we changed doctors. This was January 2014. He asked me several key questions, like; how difficult eating was, did I enjoy my meals or were they a chore, how did food taste, how often did I choke? He said his experience was that doing the feeding tube surgery earlier had better results. The stronger I was the better. We did it within two weeks of that appointment (February 10th). As of the end of May, I am no longer able to eat solid food at all. I have lost about 10 pounds but am currently maintaining well by having my supplement given to me overnight through a Kangaroo pump.

How has being a registered nurse shaped your perspective?

I’m not really sure except that I felt confident I knew what I had before any doctor was willing to diagnose it, and knowing what was ahead of me was frightening. It has made me good at being my own advocate. By being my own advocate, I mean when how I feel doesn’t coincide with what “the professional” is telling me, I speak up and or look for someone who will listen. We all know our bodies better than anyone else and every case of ALS is unique in some way. We have different symptoms, different rates of progression and some have pain, some don’t. Make sure you’re not being categorized. If what they say just isn’t what your gut tells you; speak up! Advocate for what you think is best for you and the way you want to deal with your disease. If you don’t speak on your own behalf who will?

What is one thing you have learned on your journey that you didn’t expect?

I have come to realize that our lives revolve around meals. We are all social beings, and we come together over food and drink. Not being able to do that is really a challenge and even makes the ones around you uncomfortable. Food is comforting and even though I have never been a big eater and I’m not ever hungry, I really miss the tastes and experience.

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Putting the spotlight on ALS

Posted August 15th, 2014 by

If you follow PatientsLikeMe on Twitter or Facebook, you might be wondering why our staff decided to dump ice water all over their heads this past week. Well, here’s what’s up: it all about raising awareness for ALS.

It began in 2012, when local Boston College alumnus Pete Frates was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the young age of 27. ALS is a motor neuron disease that affects the nerves that control voluntary movement. As the condition progresses, patients are eventually unable to walk, talk, eat or communicate on their own.

We’re all too familiar with ALS at PatientsLikeMe – in 1998, Stephen Heywood, the brother of our founders Ben and Jamie, was diagnosed with the neurological condition, and his journey sparked the journey that became PatientsLikeMe.

Ever since his diagnosis, Pete’s been working to raise awareness about ALS, and when his friend Pat nominated him for the ice bucket challenge, he posted a video encouraging others to “Strike Out ALS.” So in Stephen, Pete and everyone with ALS’s honor, we decided to accept the ice bucket challenge.

 

We also challenged a few of our friends:

Global Genes:

Susannah Fox:

 

Even Stickman made an appearance to help out our friends Jeff Dwyer and Adam Darowski:

 

Of course, it’s not just about pouring water over our heads – it’s about donating to ALS research and educating everyone about what it’s like to live with ALS. The only question is…do you accept the challenge?

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“In my own words” – PatientsLikeMe member Steve writes about his journey with ALS

Posted July 16th, 2014 by

For those of you who don’t know Steve, you should! For years he worked as a successful landscape architect designing urban public spaces. In 2006, he was overlooking the design of the historic Boston Common when he was diagnosed with ALS. Steve retired from that career path and quickly started another – creating the Steve Saling ALS Residence, the world’s first fully automated, vent-ready, skilled service residence specifically designed for people with ALS (co-founder Ben Heywood and marketing team member Jenna Tobey went to visit him at the residence not too long ago).

Steve hasn’t stopped with just one residence – his ALS Residence Initiative (ALSRI) provides an environment where people with ALS and other debilitating conditions can live productive and independent lives. As Steven Hawking said, it demonstrates “the roles of technology empowering the lives of those who would otherwise depend entirely on the care of others. I look forward to living centers such as this becoming a standard for the world.” And Steve is on his way to making that a reality – the ALSRI has opened a new house in New Orleans and is currently building another one in Georgia.

Steve recently shared a story on Facebook about an accident that happened while he was on his way to meet up with friends and generously agreed to share it on the PatientsLikeMe blog, too. He put it all in perspective by talking about the challenges of being unable to communicate with medical staff, and how emergency personnel should be better trained to interact with people who have ALS to avoid potentially life-threatening mistakes. Check out what he had to share below.

A tale of friends, beer and ambulances…

I have always enjoyed drinking beer with friends, and ALS did nothing to change that. All spring and summer, my friends and I get together monthly for beer night. Unfortunately, one time I stood them up.

I had parked the van and was almost to Cambridge Brewing Company. I had to cross Portland Street and had to go down a wicked steep curb ramp, and it flipped my wheelchair on its side. It was really no big deal, but the ensuing ambulance ride could have killed me dead.

I appreciate that it must have been quite a sight as a bunch of people rushed over to help me and my mom. I just wanted them to put me back on my wheels so I could go drink beer, but it seemed like the ambulance got there in seconds. They were super nice, but they are paid to be cautious, and I was away from my computer and my grunting protests could not convince anyone not to take me to the hospital.

That is where things got dangerous. Everyone knew I have ALS, but they strapped me flat on my back on a hard board for the trip to the hospital. They were concerned about my spine, but I am already paralyzed and am more concerned about maintaining an open airway, but I had no way to communicate that. If my breathing had been more compromised, I would have suffocated on the way.

Fortunately, my breathing is without difficulty, even flat on my back. My burden with ALS is drooling. I can drool a gallon a day, and I expected to drown on my own spit on the ride to the hospital. One of the few words I can say is “up,” but everyone thought I was complaining about being uncomfortable and off I went. Miraculously, my body recognized the danger, and I realized I had severe dry mouth so I calmed down and made it to the hospital with my mom bringing my chair and more importantly my computer in the van behind the ambulance. I have to say that they were very nice at Massachusetts General Hospital, and my nurses and doctors were hot as balls. It would be tragic if they had killed me by trying to help me. They wanted to do a CAT scan, but I refused and was out within the hour. The whole experience reinforced my fear of going to the hospital when not able to speak. Hospital ERs and EMTs just don’t know enough about ALS to provide appropriate care. This needs to change.

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Food for thought: June edition

Posted June 18th, 2014 by

For the past couple months, we’ve been sharing about different members’ favorite foods and recipes, and we’re keeping it going with multiple sclerosis members discussing the pros and cons of smoothies, ALS patients talking about getting sleepy after steak, and the fibromyalgia community sharing about cutting foods out of their diets.

MS forum thread: Nutrition questions anyone?

“And on the other hand, some people, (myself, for instance) have resistance to green smoothies…”

“We love green smoothies. I think they taste best if you use 1/3 green stuff, 1/3 banana, and 1/3 other fruit, like berries, peaches, etc.”

“I can understand the value of smoothies, which have all the fiber blended into the drink, but juice? Not only no, but hell no.”

ALS forum thread: Could a steak make you lethargic?

“I get really tired after chewing. Steak would knock me out!” 

“My hubby has always asked for steak dinners since his dx. He says it makes him feel more energetic.”

“Try really small bites and/or mix with mashed potatoes.”

Fibromyalgia forum thread: gluten/sugar/alcohol free

“I have cut out soda and now drink seltzer water. (I like the bubbles).”

“I had to cut out the alcohol, sugar, red meat and a gluten free diet.”

“It has not been easy. I have on numerous occasions opened that cupboard door to the chocolates but then just closed it again.”

 

 


If you could share one thing… -Steven’s inspiring answer

Posted June 16th, 2014 by

PatientsLikeMe ALS member Steven (sheronemus) was diagnosed with ALS back in 2005, and we recently had the chance to ask a few questions about his experiences. Steven spoke about his initial anger and disbelief, the clarity and focus he developed afterwards and how technology helps him participate in many events he didn’t expect to witness. Read his full interview below.

What was the first thing that went through your mind when you were diagnosed with ALS?

After the initial shock came a phase of denial and anger. Like many people with ALS, I had seen a number of doctors over a period of two years and had received several diagnoses ranging from a pinched nerve to benign fasciculation syndrome. Feeding the disbelief was my anger at the neurologist who, after performing a minimum of tests, told me I was dying and to come back when I needed a wheelchair. Since he was a jerk he couldn’t be right, right? Soon my wife and I felt a profound loss for our 4 children and for all the milestones we wouldn’t share like graduations, weddings and grandchildren.

How did your diagnosis change your everyday life?

My diagnosis brought clarity and focus as the realization set in that wallowing in fear gave ALS a victory it didn’t deserve. I am living, not dying, and we live as normally as we can while being proactive about planning for my future needs.

Looks like you’re very active on PatientsLikeMe – what tools do you use the most, and what have you learned about your condition?

I really love tracking my condition and I use the charts to help keep friends and family updated on how I’m doing. The most important thing I have learned is how different and intensely personal everyone’s journey is. Just because something works for me doesn’t mean it is right for others. The forum allows us to share experiences and build supportive relationships.

We see your daughter just got married last autumn – congrats! How did technology help you participate in the wedding?

The wedding of our oldest daughter was one of milestones I didn’t expect to witness. It was a beautiful day. The most obvious technology I used was my standing powerchair that allowed me to “walk” my daughter down the aisle and dance with her. Equally important, though, were my VPAP, Diaphragm Pacing System and PEG feeding tube, all combining to give me the strength to participate, not simply observe. We’ve also recently been blessed with our first grandchild, a girl, whom I talk to with my new eyegaze communication device.

If you could share one thing with the greater ALS community, what would it be?

Don’t let fear for the future ruin the beauty and gift of today.


Food for thought: May edition

Posted May 30th, 2014 by

Just last month, we shared about some of our community members’ favorite foods, and about how what they choose to eat can impact the conditions they live with every day. We heard from the fibromyalgia, type 2 diabetes and multiple sclerosis communities – and to keep the series going, we’ve got three new hot, or cold if you like a good scoop of ice cream, forum threads to share. (If you follow our blog, that hot/cold play just made you smile… again. ☺)

ALS forum thread: tips on how to gain weight while eating healthy?

“… the bottom line is that I need to put on weight. I eat organic foods when possible, no sugar and a little if any wheat.”

“I rely on high calorie fruit (but all are good) such as bananas, mangoes, blueberries, etc. I just blend them up (using one fruit) to make smoothies.” 

“You might try using Ensure, Boost or other nutritional food extras.” 

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis forum thread: Primal blueprint

“The basic premise is that we should be eating like our pre-agricultural ancestors and eliminate grains and sugars from our diet. I need to lose weight to get on the transplant list…”

“And it becomes very surprising to find out how wheat is found in many unexpected products.”

“Men do demonstrate the ability to lose weight quicker and faster than women … although I prefer the word ‘program’ to ‘diet’” 

PatientsLikeMe forum thread: Nutrition questions anyone?

“Someone mentioned to me, and I am wondering if it is a concern to others, that the skin of fruit nowadays might have too many toxins from sprays, etc. … do others that eat non-organic worry about that?” 

“Juicing is a wonderful way to gulp down the 10-20 servings of raw fruits and vegetables that many are encouraged to intake.

“My intestines are very sensitive to fibre, I would have to build up the fibre content very slowly, or they would go straight through me …”

Jump into one of these forum threads or you can always start your own with a favorite recipe, general diet tips that have worked for you or a question you think the community can help answer.


What lies ahead – PatientsLikeMe member John shares his journey with ALS

Posted May 14th, 2014 by

It’s already the second week of ALS Awareness Month, and as promised, we’ve got an interview to share with John (johnpp) – a PatientsLikeMe member that has been living with ALS since his diagnosis in the spring of 2013. John talks about a new sense of urgency that he feels along with his reaction and outlook after being diagnosed with ALS. And as we speak, he’s traveling across the United States with his adorable dog, Molly (that’s her in the picture) to help raise awareness and funds for ALS through his artwork. Learn more about his efforts on the ART 4 ALS website and check out his full interview below. 


When did you first start experiencing symptoms of ALS? What was your diagnosis experience like?

I first experienced ALS symptoms early in 2012 as I was trying to wind down a career in metropolitan planning. At the time, I was also heading up the recovery group I helped establish in our hometown of Schoharie NY after the devastating floods from Hurricane Irene in August 2013. The flood had put 85% of all homes and 100% of all businesses in town out of commission. I’m proud of the response from the community and from all over. Our group organized over 400,000 volunteer hours in the first year after the flood!

By the fall of 2012, folks were commenting that they were having a hard time hearing me at meetings. At the time, I thought my speech difficulty was related to recent dental work or simply stress. My wife of 33 years and soulmate, Bobby, had serious medical issues and we were doing home hemodiaylsis daily (even during the three months we had to live in our motorhome while our house was uninhabitable).

I stepped down from the recovery group in April 2013 and decided that I should go to a specialist about my speech symptoms. I chose the Movement Disorders Clinic at Albany Medical Center and had blood tests, MRI, etc. In August, the EMG test showed scattered motor neuron damage throughout my body and the ALS diagnosis was pretty solid.

My initial reaction was (1) relief that my condition would likely leave my mental capacities intact. Both of my parents died of Parkinson’s with dementia and full-blown-dementia is not something I wanted to deal with. (2) shock that it was ALS. Whoever thinks that? (3) gratitude for the life I have had. For the first time, I understood the sentiment expressed in Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest person” speech.

You’re traveling across the country with your awesome dog Molly – can you tell us a little about ART 4 ALS and what you hope to achieve?

In December of last year, my neurologist was up front with my prognosis. He said that I am at a high risk for respiratory failure because of my bulbar onset and that, if the failure kicks in, I had about two years to live. If not, he said I have maybe five. He added that if I plan to travel, to do it within the next six months or a year before it becomes more challenging.

That night, I spoke with my wife and she agreed to try to get stronger so we could travel. The next morning she was so weak that she went to the ER. Her body gave up and she died within 36 hours.

After a few months, I decided I would like to travel while I am able, and realized I would need a purpose to make sense of the journey. Since my ALS symptoms (speech, swallowing, weak arms and hands) would be evident to those I encounter, I chose to make the trip about ALS awareness. I prepared a 4 x 5 inch handout that talks about the trip, my art, ALS and the need for research. Friends suggested that Molly would be the face of the trip, so she is featured on the handout and our website. (She is also keeping her own blog, which seems to be more popular than mine!) Often, folks will ask about Molly and that opens the door to talk about the trip and about ALS.

Interest in the trip is strong in Schoharie, so I also set up a way for individuals to pledge to ALS research on a per mile basis. (See www.art4als.com)

Molly (isn’t she cute?!)

Why did you choose to donate all proceeds from your paintings the ALS Therapy Development Institute?

I chose to donate the proceeds from any artwork to ensure I would actually do artwork during the trip. There are many valid avenues for giving to support ALS research. I chose the ALS Therapy Development Institute because of its focus on near-term treatment options.

You mention on your website that you now realize there is an urgency to everything – how has this outlook affected your day-to-day life?

If there is a blessing to having ALS, it is the fact that I have a pretty clear idea of what lies ahead. There will be a time in the not-too-distant future when I won’t be able to do the things I can today. So I make myself explore, observe, contribute, participate as much as is healthy while I can. I have several projects and trips planned with my grandkids later this summer, knowing that next year they won’t be as easy. I have observed that the major characteristics of PALS (Patients with ALS) include hope; advocacy; interest in innovative therapy options; frustration with declining abilities; and regret for not having done more while he or she was still able. I am determined to minimize my regrets.

How has the PatientsLikeMe ALS community helped you learn more about managing and living with your condition? 

There are a number of online community forums available to PALS. When I stumbled onto PatientsLikeMe I was amazed at the sophistication of the website and the amount of information volunteered by so many people. I have searched on the website for other individuals with symptoms that are taking a similar course to mine and am following them, gleaning ideas about adaptive devices I may consider in the future. I have reviewed the self-reported efficacy of different treatments I have considered. This information is available nowhere else. While other forums seem to be content with basic ALS information and random user discussions, PatientsLikeMe offers the breadth and depth of information that I need to live my life fully.

What’s one thing you’d tell someone that has just recently been diagnosed with ALS? 

It’s not quite one thing, but I’d say take time to process the shock; realize that the diagnosis is not just about you, and let your family grieve; and use your days productively in a way that you will reflect on someday with pleasure.

Thanks for asking.

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Speaking up for hope during ALS Awareness Month

Posted April 28th, 2014 by

May is just a few days away, and we wanted to get a jump-start on spreading the word for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Awareness Month. As many out there might know, PatientsLikeMe was founded on the life experiences of brothers Stephen, Ben and Jamie Heywood. In 1998, Stephen was diagnosed with ALS and his brothers went to work trying to find new ways to slow his progression. But their trial and error approach just wasn’t working, and so they set out to find a better way. And that’s how in 2004, PatientsLikeMe was created. If you don’t know the story, you can watch the feature documentary of the family’s journey, called “So Much So Fast.”

ALS is considered a rare condition, but it’s actually more common than you might think – in the United States, 5,600 people are diagnosed with ALS each year, and as many as 30,000 are living with the condition at any given time.1 ALS affects people of every race, gender and background, and there is no current cure.

Even before PatientsLikeMe, Jamie started the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI), an independent research center that focuses on developing effective therapeutics that slow and stop ALS. Now, it’s the largest non-profit biotech solely focused on finding an effective therapy for ALS. And on May 3rd, “The Cure is Coming!” road race and awareness walk will be held in Lexington Center, MA, to help raise funds for ALS TDI. There’ll be a picnic lunch, cash prizes for the road race winners and live music. Last year, over $110,000 was raised for ALS TDI – if you’re in the neighborhood, join the race today.

Also, the ALS Association (ALSA) sponsors several events during May, and this year, you can:

Back in January, we shared a special ALS infographic on the blog – the PatientsLikeMe ALS community was the platform’s first community, and now, it’s more than 6,000 members strong. If you’ve been diagnosed with ALS, there’s a warm and welcoming community on PatientsLikeMe waiting for you to join in. Ask questions, get support and compare symptoms with others who get what you’re going through.

Keep an eye out for more ALS awareness posts on the blog in May, including an interview with one of our ALS members.

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1http://www.alsa.org/about-als/facts-you-should-know.html


Patients as Partners: The Perceived Medical Condition Self-Management Scale questionnaire results

Posted April 18th, 2014 by

Back at the beginning of April, we launched a new blog series called Patients as Partners that highlights the results and feedback PatientsLikeMe members give to questionnaires on our Open Research Exchange (ORE) platform. This time around, we’re sharing the results of the Perceived Medical Condition Self-Management Scale (PMCSMS), a health measure that looks at how confident people are in managing their own conditions. More than 1,500 members from 9 different condition communities on PatientsLikeMe took part. They worked with our research partner Ken Wallston from Vanderbilt University to make the tool the best it can be. (Thank you to everyone that participated! This is your data doing good.) Check out the PMCSMS results and keep your eyes peeled for more ORE questionnaire results as we continue the series on the blog.

What’s ORE all about again? PatientsLikeMe’s ORE platform gives patients the chance to not only check an answer box, but also share their feedback on each question in a researcher’s health measure. They can tell our research partners what makes sense, what doesn’t, and how relevant the overall tool is to their condition. It’s all about collaborating with patients as partners to create the most effective tools for measuring disease.