11 posts tagged “lateral”

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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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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“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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“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.


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?

Share this post on twitter and help spread the word for ALS awareness. And don’t forget to post your own video of the ice bucket challenge!


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.

 Share this post on twitter and help spread the word for ALS Awareness Month.


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.

 Share this post on twitter and help spread the word for ALS Awareness Month

 


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