25 posts tagged “MND”

PatientsLikeMe Co-Founders Jamie and Ben Heywood Win International Alliance of ALS/MND Associations 2016 Humanitarian Award

Posted December 8th, 2016 by

DUBLIN—December 8, 2016—A decade after their work sparked a revolution in patient empowerment and patient-centered medicine, PatientsLikeMe co-founders Jamie and Ben Heywood were awarded the 2016 Humanitarian Award by the International Alliance of ALS/MND Associations.

Inaugurated in 2000, the Humanitarian Award recognizes and encourages contributions to the fight against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis/Motor Neurone Disease (ALS/MND) and is awarded to those whose work is of international significance for people affected by ALS/MND.

In presenting the award, the Alliance’s citation acknowledged the founding of both the patient network PatientsLikeMe and the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI), the world’s first non-profit biotechnology company. “When their brother was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 29, James Allen Heywood and Benjamin Heywood were devastated at his prognosis and at the lack of effective treatments for the disease. They saw firsthand how isolating ALS/MND can be. They took up these challenges as a family and, with family and friends, founded two organizations: ALS TDI, tasked with finding effective treatments for the condition, and PatientsLikeMe, to tackle social isolation and to collect data on what other drugs, interventions or supplements might make a difference to those with ALS/MND.”

Jamie Heywood thanked the association on behalf of his family and PatientsLikeMe members and staff and said the company is ready to lead the next decade of advancements in research and medicine, with and for patients. “We changed the rules by helping patients digitize and share their experience so they could make more informed decisions about how to live with and treat their condition. Now we’re embarking on the next stage of the journey by piloting biomarker discovery in ALS and other conditions. We hope many more patients will join us as we work together to find new answers.”

More information about how to be part of PatientsLikeMe’s upcoming research in ALS/MND is available at www.patientslikeme.com/advanceals.

About PatientsLikeMe
PatientsLikeMe is a patient network that improves lives and a real-time research platform that advances medicine. Through the network, patients connect with others who have the same disease or condition and track and share their own experiences. In the process, they generate data about the real-world nature of disease that help researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers, and nonprofits develop more effective products, services, and care. With more than 400,000 members, PatientsLikeMe is a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 85 research studies. Visit us at www.patientslikeme.com or follow us via our blog, Twitter or Facebook.

Contact                                                                                                                Margot Carlson Delogne
PatientsLikeMe
781.492.1039
mcdelogne@patientslikeme.com

 


PatientsLikeMe Launches Virtual Trial for ALS Patients

Posted October 25th, 2016 by

Study With Major Academic Medical Center to Evaluate the Potential of the Soy Peptide Lunasin to Reverse ALS Symptoms


DURHAM, N.C., October 25, 2016—PatientsLikeMe and The Duke ALS Clinic have just completed enrollment in a virtual trial designed to test whether Lunasin, a peptide found in soy and some cereal grains, is helpful or harmful to patients living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The Lunasin Virtual Trial is the first study of the supplement in ALS patients and follows a review analyzing its potential to reverse ALS in ALSUntangled, a website for clinicians, patients and researchers to explore alternative treatments.

Duke ALS Clinic Director and ALSUntangled Founder Richard Bedlack, MD, said he first heard about Lunasin’s potential from Mike McDuff, an ALS patient who took the supplement and experienced dramatic improvements in speech, swallowing and limb strength.

“I reviewed Mike’s records and reports, and both his diagnosis and his improvements appeared real,” Bedlack said. “Of course, Mike might have an ALS mimic we don’t know how to test for, or his body may have found a way to beat ALS independent of treatment. But there is one more possibility: his Lunasin regimen might have actually worked. I was compelled to design a study to treat other ALS patients with the same regimen to test if anyone else improves.”

As part of the trial, 50 participants will make three in-person visits to the Duke ALS clinic to measure the supplement’s impact over the course of the year-long study. They will also complete virtual check-ins as members of PatientsLikeMe every 30 days to update their weight, complete an evaluation of their Lunasin regimen, and complete the ALS Functional Rating Scale (Revised, ALSFRS-R), a widely-used patient-reported outcome developed by PatientsLikeMe that allows patients to see their disease progression visually and in context.

Bedlack said the study’s design is patient-centric and eliminates many of the frustrations patients say are inherent in traditional clinical trials. The design also likely contributed to what Bedlack calls the fastest enrollment of any trial in ALS history: the virtual trial took just over five months to fill.

“There are no placebos, and we made the inclusion criteria very broad so that even ALS patients who can’t qualify for other studies due to their long disease duration or use of a ventilator can qualify,” Bedlack said. “We’re also limiting the burden on the participants by helping them check in online from the comfort of home. And we’ve already published the protocol on our ALS Reversals website. We’re taking a completely open approach so that anyone, anywhere, can see the details of what we’re testing and learn more about whether this is helpful, harmful, or does nothing at all. I think all of these factors made the trial very attractive to ALS patients.”

PatientsLikeMe began as a website for people living with ALS to openly share their experiences with each other and study alternative and off-label treatments. Vice President of Innovation Paul Wicks, PhD, said the company’s research focus gave ALS patients a science-based platform to monitor themselves, get ideas from other patients, and play a more active role in their own healthcare. That focus has also helped the company produce more than 30 published research studies on the condition, including a 2011 observational study in Nature Biotechnology that refuted the results of a 2008 clinical trial on the efficacy of lithium carbonate on ALS. More recently the company has worked with Bedlack to study the frequency of ALS plateaus and reversals. Findings from that study were recently published online and in the March 2016 print edition of the journal Neurology.

Anyone taking Lunasin outside of the Lunasin Virtual Trial is invited to separately track their experiences on PatientsLikeMe at www.patientslikeme.com.

ALS is a degenerative disorder affecting upper motor neurons in the brain and lower motor neurons in the brain stem and spinal cord. Symptoms include progressive weakness, atrophy, fasciculation, dysphagia, and eventual paralysis of respiratory function.

Study Design Methodology

The Lunasin Virtual Trial is a 12-month, widely inclusive, largely virtual, single-center, open-label pilot trial utilizing a historical control group. Participants will be asked to sign in or register for an account on www.patientslikeme.com with the help of the study coordinator and will be given a welcome packet that includes a one sheet description of the study, a checkup checklist, and the first month of a total 12-month supply of Lunasin. User IDs associated with participants’ PatientsLikeMe account will be recorded by the study coordinator and shared with study staff at PatientsLikeMe. After the initial in-clinic visit, participants will be asked to enter the following data online: weight, Lunasin study drug regimen evaluation, and their ALSFRS-R score.

About PatientsLikeMe

PatientsLikeMe is a patient network that improves lives and a real-time research platform that advances medicine. Through the network, patients connect with others who have the same disease or condition and track and share their own experiences. In the process, they generate data about the real-world nature of disease that help researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers, and nonprofits develop more effective products, services, and care. With more than 400,000 members, PatientsLikeMe is a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 80 research studies. Visit us at www.patientslikeme.com or follow us via our blog, Twitter or Facebook.

Contact                                                                                                Margot Carlson Delogne
PatientsLikeMe
mcdelogne@patientslikeme.com
+1.781.492.1039


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

Posted May 19th, 2016 by

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Posted February 12th, 2016 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

What part of it do you enjoy or find rewarding?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted January 22nd, 2016 by

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

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

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meet John from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 6th, 2016 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted January 4th, 2016 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Your data doing good: The Lithium study

Posted December 18th, 2015 by

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

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

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

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Gus’s story

Posted December 7th, 2015 by

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

Here’s more of his story:

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

 
 
 
Data for you. For others. For good.

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Meet Gus from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted November 24th, 2015 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“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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Research, support and hope for spinal muscular atrophy

Posted August 11th, 2014 by

If you know PatientsLikeMe, you know that neurological conditions take us all the way back to our beginning. Stephen Heywood, the brother of our founders Ben and Jamie, was diagnosed with ALS back in 1998 at age 29. Today, almost ten years after PatientsLikeMe was created, thousands of members living with ALS and other neurological disorders are sharing their stories and donating health data to help improve the lives of others and contribute to medical research. And in the spirit of Stephen and everyone living with these conditions, we’re recognizing Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month this August.

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) affects the nerves responsible for movement, including breathing and other bodily functions. It is inherited through genes passed on by parents who are carriers of the genetic code.

SMA affects people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. There are four types of SMA – Types 1, 2 and 3 all affect children and adolescents, while type 4 is usually limited to those above the age of 35. And although SMA is classified as a rare condition, think about this: SMA affects approximately 1 in every 6,000 babies, and about 1 in 50 people are carriers for the condition.1

So what can you do this August to raise awareness for SMA? Orange and purple are the two colors designated for SMA awareness, so wear or display them and let people know why you are! The Families of SMA (FSMA) also organizes many awareness events around the world, everything from walks to dinners to Bowl-A-Thons. Check out their website and find an event near you.

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1 http://www.fsma.org/FSMACommunity/understandingsma/quickfacts/


Subjects no more: what happens when trial participants realize they hold the power in clinical trials?

Posted February 18th, 2014 by

When I first became involved with online communities back in 2002, I moderated a small forum for patients with ALS/MND in the UK at King’s College Hospital to connect with one another, share tips and support, and to help our care center to serve them better. One area that remains controversial even to this day is clinical trials. ALS is a rapidly fatal and incurable illness, and as a young researcher I was often trying to field questions that patients had about the trials process:

“Why aren’t there more trials taking place?”

“Why do we have to have a placebo?”

“If researchers think commonly available treatments like dietary supplements or antibiotics might slow my disease, why can’t I just take them anyway rather than being enrolled in a trial?”

Given the severity of their situation and the slow pace of clinical trials (it’s estimated that it takes over 10 years for a new discovery to go from the lab to the clinic), I certainly sympathized with their frustrations and did my best to get the answers they needed, asking my medical colleagues where I could and translating the technical jargon. A few patients decided to go a step further than challenging the status quo, however, and took actions into their own hands. One patient taking part in a trial sent her medication off to a private lab to test whether or not she was on placebo, and several others took off-label experimental ALS treatments like creatine or minocycline. Some of them even went abroad to China for highly controversial stem cell treatments. In the end, none of these interventions were shown to slow the disease, but it certainly showed what was possible when a smart, dedicated, and adventurous group of patients could organize online.

Fast-forward more than ten years and we see a very different world, where patients have a growing voice in treatment approval, the design of patient reported outcome measures, and increasingly share their trial experiences through social media. That’s what inspired us to write our latest article just published in the British Medical Journal which details our experiences with how members of our community have replicated a clinical trial, have started sharing their data with leading researchers to debunk alternative “cures” for their disease, and have even started taking trials into their own hands. We feel these are symptoms of a greater underlying problem that has been with the design of clinical trials from the start – trials are all take and no give.

Patients take all the risk with their health, their time, their bodies, and in return they are supposed to temporarily suspend their instinctual curiosity to know more about their health status through self-monitoring or to interact with other patients who might be in a trial, all for the good of science and other patients. Modern technology up-ends that power dynamic though, and now it’s almost as easy for a patient to measure their health status with patient-reported outcomes, wearable devices, or even lab tests as it is for their doctor. In that case, can we really say patients are truly blinded anymore? The double-blind placebo-controlled randomized controlled trial is a “gold standard” in medicine, but unless it adapts to the changing realities of the patient empowerment landscape, it will be inherently unsustainable.

That’s why our team is embarking on research this year to gain a new understanding of what patients want from trials and a new understanding of the social contract as patients want it written. Our hope is that we can bring them together with the scientific needs of researchers to conduct robust science. It won’t be easy, and it might not be popular with everyone, but it’s the best path we can see towards faster cures that respects the rights of patients to be partners, not just subjects.

PatientsLikeMe member PaulWicks