A Salute to Military Heroes with ALS

October 31, 2014

Like most veterans with ALS, Bob McDonald’s symptoms crept up on him. He had trouble lifting his arms and shoulders.  His legs and feet got tired quickly. Then he started falling. Doctor visits and numerous tests followed. After many years working in human resources, McDonald had no choice but to retire. He and his wife Anita now live in Tucson, Arizona.

“We’re very fortunate that Bob is now in his seventh year with ALS, which is so much longer than many people have,” says his wife Anita. “We can still visit friends and go out for dinner on occasion.”

McDonald, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War era, tries to maintain a positive attitude. “I’m a person who accepts what is,” he says. “It can be difficult the way capabilities just slide away, but at some point, you just have to accept it and move on. You have to keep a positive frame of reference and focus on what you can do.”

The ALS Association is committed to advocacy, research and support on behalf of the nation’s military veterans with ALS who for unknown reasons are approximately twice as likely to die from ALS as the general public.  In addition, their symptoms typically begin decades after their military service.

We’re fighting for them because they fought for us,” says Barbara Newhouse, President and CEO of The ALS Association. “Veterans with ALS are in a battle for their lives against a disease that can rob them of their ability to walk, communicate, swallow and breathe. They deserve everything we can do to accelerate treatment and a cure.”

Tony Solazzo was in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War era. Today he still wakes up in the middle of the night, forgetting that he has ALS. “I’ll have an idea about something or try to sit up in bed and realize I can’t move.  I still want to get up and do things.”

For someone who was always active and athletic, that might be the hardest part of coping with ALS.  “I was always athletic and played basketball, softball and lifted weights. I even boxed undefeated when I was in the Marine Corps,” says Solazzo.

So it was all the more surprising when he grew tired quickly during a workout. He couldn’t lift the same amount of weight as before.  And he was having a hard time playing softball. “I was getting upset,” says Solazzo. “I thought it was my age.”

One night during a particularly long shift at UNC Hospital in North Carolina, where he was a plumbing supervisor, Solazzo started stumbling and staggering, trying to hold on to the wall for balance. “I felt like I didn’t have any legs.”

Like other veterans with ALS, Solazzo was forced to retire early. But he and his wife Liz try to remain as upbeat as possible despite the challenges of living day-to-day with a progressive, debilitating disease.

Tom Ward, yet another U.S. Marine who served during Vietnam, feels the same way.

“Tom says everyone has something and this is just what he has to deal with. We try to live our life to the fullest,” says his wife, Mary.

To take advantage of the time they have together – and to pursue the life they always desired, the Wards moved to the beach in Wilmington, North Carolina a few years ago. They go to the beach as often as possible with Maddy, Tom’s service dog, by his side as his constant companion.

“The ALS Association is committed to doing everything possible to make the lives of our veterans with ALS and their families easier,” says Newhouse. More stories about veterans with ALS and how they are coping with the disease can be found on the ALS Wall of Honor.

To learn more what you can do to help, visit the “Advocate” section of The ALS Association website at www.alsa.org/advocacy.

Read the press release.

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