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Letter: Veterans with Lou Gehrig’s disease
Nobody knows the hell an ALS victim lives with every day except another ALS victim. Watching people play with grandkids, running, tickling, reading to them, all the while hoping you don’t break into tears and ruin the happy time as you look forward to the opportunity to try to position your arms to hug them while somebody places them in your lap, careful to avoid the feeding tube in your belly, then not quite managing to get even one arm around them to hug them before they are off and gone.
Listening to conversations and not being able to take part because by the time you manage to type a message into the machine that talks for you, the conversation has moved on and what you finally managed to type in now makes no sense so you just don’t bother to try anymore.
Meeting family and friends you haven’t seen in a while and just nodding like a moron when they ask how you are and tell you that you look good when you know you look like a person who is dying, with your drawn features and gaping mouth.
Having an excellent memory so you remember all the things you enjoyed doing that you can’t do anymore like fishing, hiking through state parks, camping, taking pictures, driving, cooking, doing laundry, gardening, mowing grass, and a hundred more things healthy people take for granted. Getting exhausted by just writing this note by punching one letter at a time with a pencil.
And finally, the kicker, knowing it is just going to get worse.
A few weeks ago, studies found that NFL players are at greater risk of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Papers like this one ran stories about the news and rightfully so. But with Veterans Day approaching on Sunday, Nov. 11, how many of us know that a much, much larger segment of our population -- military veterans -- also is at greater risk of Lou Gehrig’s disease?
Studies have shown that military veterans are about twice as likely to die from ALS as the general public. It does not matter when or where they served in the military -- home or abroad, during a time of peace or war, from World War I to Afghanistan. Unfortunately for these heroes and everyone else in the world who is living with ALS, there is no treatment. There is no cure. They will die from the disease in an average of just two to five years.
We do not know what causes ALS in veterans or NFL players. Is it head trauma? Excessive physical activity? Those are potential risk factors. But we do know that raising awareness of the risk faced by our veterans not only can let these heroes know about the significant VA benefits that are available, but also help us to find the cause, treatment, and cure for this horrific disease.
Just as the media published stories about the greater risks faced by NFL players, so too should they report the risks faced by our military heroes who have fought for and defended our nation.
I encourage readers to visit the Wall of Honor at www.alsa.org. There, people can read the stories and see the faces of hundreds of veterans living with ALS and those who already have been lost to the disease. There, they can see that ALS does not simply strike the stars we watch on TV every Sunday, but also our family members, friends, and neighbors who have served in the military -- our heroes.
Editor’s Note: Although Valinda herself is not a veteran, she feels the need to call attention to those vets, who, like her, are dealing with ALS.
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