Contact:
Brian Frederick
The ALS Association
202-465-8800
bfrederick@alsa-national.org

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

In Honor of Veteran’s Day on November 11, The ALS Association Recognizes Veterans with ALS

Nation’s Vets Diagnosed with ALS at Approximately Twice the Rate of General Public

Washington, D.C., (November 1, 2014) – ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease,  gained nationwide attention this summer after the well-publicized Ice Bucket Challenge raised more than $100 million for The ALS Association.

But many people still remain unaware that for unknown reasons, our nation’s military veterans are approximately twice as likely to die from ALS as the general public. This includes veterans of all military conflicts, from before World War II to present-day conflicts in the Middle East. There is also no distinction between those who served during a time of peace or a time of war.

Steve Bellino had been in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War era and had participated in the evacuation of troops during the fall of Saigon in 1975. But that was years ago. 

Now he was a 27-year veteran with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and had his own business as an expert witness in forensics traffic accident reconstruction.  He traveled between his job in Southern California and his home in Northern California continually. But in 2012, while riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, he noticed that had trouble lifting the toe of his boot to shift gears. And when he went ice skating, his ankles gave way, even thought he’d been on skates since he was a kid.

At first his doctor thought it might be arthritis, gout or maybe neuropathy. But his symptoms continued; he started limping noticeably and having muscle cramps.  His breathing grew labored. And in July 2013, his doctor delivered a diagnosis that would change Bellino’s life forever. He had ALS.

“My doctor told me to get my affairs in order,” says Bellino. “He told me he didn’t really have a timetable for me as ALS affects everyone at a different rate.  It was a major blow.”

ALS, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, destroys the motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord, eventually leading to loss of control over muscle movement, including the ability to walk, speak and even breathe. Although many people live much longer, the average life expectancy of someone with ALS average about two to five years from diagnosis.

In honor of Veteran’s Day on November 11, The ALS Association pays tribute to those veterans who have been diagnosed with this devastating, progressive neurodegenerative disease that at the present time has no cure.

“Our veterans deserve better,” says Barbara Newhouse, president and CEO of The ALS Association. “That’s why we’re actively pursuing this unjust battle here on the home front to find answers to why ALS is more common among veterans than the general public. We’re laser focused on our work to discover a new treatment and have enlisted the best and brightest researchers the world over to make that vision a reality.”

Jan Cannon is only 49. A veteran of Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf, her symptoms began during a physical fitness test in 2012 at Ft. Bragg, N.C., where she was an army reserve nurse and later, company commander of the 3274th U.S. Army Hospital. 

“I developed excruciating hip pain during the two-mile run portion of the test,” says Cannon.  “I missed a perfect test score by one point.”

At first Cannon sought conservative treatment for a musculoskeletal injury, but within six months, after her speech began to slur, and she developed a slight foot drop, a series of tests confirmed what she had already begun to suspect – she had ALS.

“Prior to my diagnosis, I was extremely active,” says Cannon. “I was not only company commander for my 200-plus soldier army reserve unit, I was a full-time certified registered nurse anesthetist at a community hospital. My husband, who is a nurse practitioner, and I were active with our church, community and our two sons’ Eagle Scout troop.”

Cannon says she’s not bitter, and both her faith and her relationship with family and friends are stronger than ever. ALS brings progressive physical debilitation that makes every task harder and more time-consuming, but every day she is reminded that faith makes things possible, not easy.

The ALS Association invites veterans and their families whose lives have been impacted by ALS to visit the Wall of Honor www.alsa.org/wallofhonor and add their story to the growing archive of hope and courage.

Learn more about the connection between ALS and military service, as well as the benefits that are available, at www.alsa.org/veterans.  

About The ALS Association
The ALS Association is the only national non-profit organization fighting Lou Gehrig’s Disease on every front.  By leading the way in global research, providing assistance for people with ALS through a nationwide network of chapters, coordinating multidisciplinary care through certified clinical care centers, and fostering government partnerships, The Association builds hope and enhances quality of life while aggressively searching for new treatments and a cure.  For more information about The ALS Association, visit our website at www.alsa.org.

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