“To Live Their Lives to the Fullest”—Physical Therapists as Part of an ALS Multi-Disciplinary Care Team

Odds are you’ve had some interaction with a physical therapist (PT) in your life. Most of us have had sprain, strain, or something that needed some help to heal right. To make sure that happened, your doctor prescribed a few sessions of PT to make sure you were doing your exercises, and doing them correctly.

October is National Physical Therapy Month, a time when we celebrate those in the physical therapy field for all they do, including the vital role they play for people with ALS and their families.

Whitney Roper (PT, DPT, ATC) is a physical therapist with the Department of Neurology, Washington University School of Medicine. As the physical therapist at the Washington University Neuromuscular Clinic, she is part of the multi-disciplinary team that serves people with ALS in our community. As we near the end of National Physical Therapy Month, we asked her to share some insights on her profession and the role it plays for people with ALS. Here’s what she had to say:

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On Llamas, ALS, and Love—Author Finds His Own Way to Give Back

For many of those touched by ALS, the impact is a lasting one. Many who have known someone who has passed away from ALS look to find a way to give back to the fight to end ALS, be it through volunteering, spreading awareness, or donations. The timing of when they come to the cause is as individual as their stories; some are ready soon after losing someone, others find that time brings them back. Each find their own way, in their own time.

For Byron von Rosenberg, the journey with ALS began 20 years ago, when his father was diagnosed with the disease. He passed away in July 2002. Byron’s very first poem, “Look at My Hands,” was written about his father’s struggle with ALS. The poem is a sort of conversation between God, a father, and son, and remains a guide to Bryon to this day.

From that poem and a lifelong love of words, other poems and stories came, including his most well-known poem “I Don’t Want to Kiss a Llama!” Since then, Bryon has made this love of words into a 2nd career of sorts as a poet, author and storyteller.

But having been touched by ALS, Bryon wanted to find a way to give back through his work. Through the end of October, he is donating $1 from every book sold to the ALS Association St. Louis Regional Chapter, and is planning more opportunities to support the work of the ALS Association in the upcoming months.

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In Memoriam: Remembering Those We’ve Lost to ALS

Those who have experienced a Walk to Defeat ALS can attest to the sense of community everyone involved feels. The feeling is different for each person, and perhaps different when we gather in-person or when we Walk Your Way as we are again this year, but the act of walking in support of the cause always seems to resonate and remind us all that we are not alone on this journey.

Among the most important parts of a Walk to Defeat ALS day is the memorial banner, which lists the names of each person our Chapter served who we have lost to ALS, and anyone who is being walked in memory of. Last year when we couldn’t gather in person, we decided to create a virtual memorial banner and posted it to our Walk to Defeat ALS Facebook page. As we are once again walking in the way that makes the most sense for you this year, we’ve created another virtual banner for 2021, and wanted to share it with you here as well.

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Lou Gehrig Day Shines a Light on ALS Across Major League Baseball

It started, as so many ideas do these days, with a text. “(D)o you think it would [be] possible and appropriate to approach mlb with doing something with Lou Gehrig like they’ve done Jackie Robinson?” songwriter Bryan Wayne Galentine, who had been diagnosed with ALS two years earlier, texted friends whom he’d met through the tight-knit ALS community on June 24, 2019. From that the idea was born.

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Surrounded by Love—A Former Volunteer Shares Her Family’s Journey with ALS

Jan Schmitz Mathew hadn’t really set out to write a book, but she is certainly comfortable with expressing herself through the written word. So when her father Roger began experiencing the symptoms of ALS in the fall of 2012, and after he was diagnosed in March 2013, she turned to writing. Rather obviously, at the time she was focused on her father, her mother, and the rest of her family—what was right in front of them. Her dad’s journey with ALS ended in October of that year, and while her writing continued, it was not yet time to think that maybe, just maybe, her experiences could have meaning for the larger ALS community.

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Finding a Way—Occupational Therapists Are the Problem-Solvers of the Multi-Discipline ALS Treatment Team

There are times, for whatever reason, when the English language can be confounding. The examples of everywhere. We drive on a parkway and park on a driveway. This can apply to professions as well. Take for example, occupational therapy. That has to do with work, right? After all, “occupation” is right there in the name. And that’s correct, but only to an extent, because the role of an occupational therapist is that and so much more. In broad terms, occupational therapy focuses on a person’s ability to perform activities of daily living—to live life to its fullest. For people with ALS, an occupational therapist (or OT) is there to help patients maintain their independence for as long as possible as well as to improve their quality of life. The work an OT does can take on many forms as we’ll soon see, but in some ways their role can be summed up by this quote from the movie Patch Adams: “You treat a disease: you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you win—no matter what the outcome.”

April is Occupational Therapy Month, and what better way to mark the occasion than to hear from someone who knows the role of an OT inside and out: our Associate Director of Care Services Melissa Smith, who just so happens to be a licensed OT.

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“I chose to use my situation as motivation…”—Pattie Hamlin Honored with ALS Association Hero Award

Like many people, Pattie Hamlin took part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014. And like many people, she did it in support of the cause but without a deep connection to the disease. But that all changed just a few years later.

Pattie Hamlin was diagnosed with ALS in 2016, but she did not let that slow her down.

“Shortly after being diagnosed I began researching and discovered how devastating this disease really is,” Pattie says. “In those early months I struggled emotionally with the outlook that was now my reality. Eventually, I chose to use my situation as motivation to try and make a difference for the future of ALS.”

For her tireless efforts in support of our Chapter and the ALS Association as an ALS advocate, fundraiser, and ambassador, Pattie was honored with the Hero Award virtually during the ALS Association 2021 Leadership Conference in February.

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ALS and Respiratory Health—Asking Hard Questions, and Getting Important Answers

The range of emotions someone faces with an ALS diagnosis are as unique as every person is. But while no two people experience exactly the same range of feelings or thoughts, there are some common themes, among them a desire to understand what the future will hold.

For Ken Menkhaus, that meant turning his analytical mind to the task of better understanding ALS. A husband, father, professor of political science and member of The ALS Association national Board of Trustees, Ken was diagnosed with ALS in 2018.

Among the issues Ken wanted to understand better was the impact ALS has on breathing. With the hopes of sharing what he learned with others facing ALS, Ken allowed The ALS Association to bring cameras along on his fact-finding journey to understand more about the impact of ALS on his respiratory health and the kinds of decisions he and his family will face as the disease progresses.

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The COVID-19 Vaccine—What You Should Know

It is fair to say that there has been much enthusiasm about safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 being developed quickly and being distributed across the country. It is also fair to say that there has been more than a little confusion about how the vaccines are being distributed, and how and when they will be available to people from various communities, including for people with ALS.

In an effort to provide the most current and reliable information available, the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), in partnership with The ALS Association, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Muscular Dystrophy Association, will host a special webinar with leaders from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to discuss the COVID-19 vaccines with the rare disease community. The webinar is Friday, January 15, from 1 – 1:45 p.m. CT. The webinar is free, and you can register here: https://bit.ly/Vaccine-Webinar.

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Hope for the New Year

As we move into 2021 in earnest we once again asked our Board Chair Josh Rogers to share some thoughts on the year ahead. Here is Josh’s message to us all:

Happy new year!

With the full year ahead of us, most of us hold terrific hope that 2021 will be an improvement over 2020.

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