The Opportune Optimist

ALS Advocate Honored for Spreading ALS Awareness; Helping Others Living with Lou Gehrig’s Disease

February 4, 2013

The great statesman Winston Churchill once uttered, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Michael Jaillet understands this adage since being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in the summer of 2011.  The 43-year-old Round Rock, Texas denizen works closely with the Texas Chapter of The ALS Association and has also started his own foundation, MJs Army, to assist others with ALS and to spread awareness of the deadly disease.

Jaillet admits he feels blessed since he has the support of his family, his wife of 16 years, Libbi, their three children, Mikey, 15, Alexandra, who goes by “A.J.,” 14, and Katie, 11, numerous people in their community as well as friends in Jaillet’s hometown of Newton, Mass.

He also credits his employer, Dell Computers, in helping him to cope with the disease. “The company has been very supportive,” he said. Dell helped him transition from being an executive who has overseen various departments, including the company’s call center, logistics and support, and product development, to his current job as executive assistant. Even though Jaillet has a slow progression of ALS, the disease has impacted his right arm, and it prevents him from writing with his right hand. It is also beginning to cause weakness in his left arm, and he occasionally experiences leg and back stiffness.

In spite of these challenges, Jaillet continues to remain self sufficient and strives to help those who lack the resources he has. In 2011, he and his family created “MJ’s Army” after his children ordered 1,000 ALS awareness wrist bands from the Texas Chapter. The foundation’s mission is to raise ALS awareness. Aside from serving as its mission, bringing awareness of Lou Gehrig’s disease to the community also represents a goal for MJ’s Army. Other organizational goals include gathering volunteer support for other families living with the disease and raising funds for ALS research.

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Michael Jaillet with his children (L to R), Mikey, Katie and A.J.

“I am in a unique position. I know everyone in town,” Jaillet said. “I realized I needed to do something different.  I feel like it’s a responsibility for me to help support others with ALS who can’t do what I do.”

That “something different” has involved holding a variety of events in Round Rock and nearby Austin. In spring 2012, MJs Army hosted an “awareness party” at a taco restaurant in the Heart of Texas. “A couple hundred people attended the event, but few knew about ALS,” said Jaillet. That party raised $15,000. Another event, a gala held in fall 2012 at an Austin brewery, brought in more than $50,000. In the past year, MJ’s Army has raised $100,000, and nearly 500 people have donated to Jaillet’s foundation or have participated in events or volunteer duties for “MJs Army.”

All funds garnered through MJ’s Army get directed to two national ALS organizations, The ALS Association and its Texas Chapter and ALS Therapy Development Institute.

In addition to raising funds for these non profits, Jaillet’s kin and other MJ’s Army members also help others living with Lou Gehrig’s disease with various household activities. “We have raked yards and have performed upgrades on houses that would allow for better indoor mobility for people with ALS,” he said.

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Michael Jaillet and children cutting the ribbon at the fall 2012 Austin Walk to Defeat ALS®

The Association will honor Jaillet and another Texan bravely batting ALS, Linda Allen, on February 8 at the 3rd Annual Luncheon for Heroes Living with ALS at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas. The luncheon, which is the highlight of The Association’s Annual Leadership Summit, honors persons living with ALS who have made “an indelible impact on The ALS Association and the community-at-large.” 

“Michael Jaillet is one of the most inspiring people you will ever meet. His leadership through MJ’s Army has made a major difference in the lives of ALS patients in Central Texas,” said David Chayer, Executive Director of the Texas Chapter. “He is making a difference through advocacy and research. I’m honored to know him and even more honored to recognize him and his family with this national award.”

Last spring, Jaillet made his mark in helping to spread awareness by performing the National Anthem in Boston’s Fenway Park in front of a crowd of nearly 40,000 prior to the Red Sox/Detroit Tigers game. He plans to continue these efforts this year by attending the 2013 National ALS Advocacy Day and Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. in May with staff, volunteers and other people with ALS on behalf of the Texas Chapter.

Jaillet also intends to expand his foundation’s endeavors to encompass assistive technology and research. He sees assistive technology as being a great benefit to people with ALS. With research, he would like to leverage technology solutions with area hospitals, healthcare companies and patient social networks to create what he calls an “ALS mega warehouse.”  “It’s an area where I think we can make a difference,” Jaillet said.  Jaillet envisions it as being “one clearing house for biotech firms and healthcare companies to store, source and share data,” which could allow ALS researchers and clinicians to freely collaborate and contribute data in “a consistent, standardized format.”

Undoubtedly, Michael Jaillet will uncover more opportunities to spread ALS awareness and to improve the lives of others with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

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