Friday, March 21, 2008

Marty Allen's Story - A Real Tough Guy

Marty Allen was a tough guy. He was an athlete, a U.S. Marine, a recovering alcoholic, a tree doctor and he had ALS. He was my best friend. Marty once said, “Everytime you hear an umpire yell “play ball”, jump in and enjoy life. Play hard and play to win, but after the game, always be willing to shake your opponents hand whether you win or lose.” That's how Marty dealt with his ALS. He jumped in; he enjoyed life, he played hard and he played to win. He tried so hard to fight the ravages of ALS. He tried to live every day to its fullest. He tried to be grateful for what he had instead of mourning what he lost. He tried to inspire others with his attitude and his courage. Marty won all those battles except for the first one – he died from ALS on July 29, 2003 at the age of 55. However, while fighting this last battle, he so inspired his loved ones that they have continued the fight in his name. Marty taught his friends who travelled by his side as he lived with ALS, that just like in baseball, its not about whether you win or lose but how you play the game.

Since Marty lived and died with ALS, I have come to learn so much more about this devastating disease. I am a physical therapist and yet when Marty was diagnosed, I knew NOTHING about ALS. The sad thing is that many health care providers don't know enough about ALS. At one point, Marty was applying for medicare coverage and going before a board of doctors at a local hospital. One of the doctors, hearing his slurred speech, despite knowing his diagnosis of ALS, asked him if he were drunk. Countless times, we had to tell health care providers what ALS was, how to manage his care, and what to expect (as best we knew it). More often than we can count, we had to inform people that ALS affected his body, not his mind. If knowledge is power, Marty's fight against ALS was an uphill battle.

It is ironic that Marty fought, as a U. S. Marine, for the health of his country, worked as a tree doctor for the health of the trees he so loved (sometimes using powerful chemicals), and then at the age of 52, those two things may have contributed to his losing his health and ultimately, at age 55, losing his life – the villain, ALS. He is not alone. Why? How? A state registry would allow researchers to track cause and effect and better be armed to search for a cure or way to control symptoms. Yet few states have instigated this and a national bill is being held up in the senate. ALS is an orphan diseases - little known and little revenue for research. Yet many of our veterans who have survived war time, now face the terror of being twice as likely to face a battle against ALS. In light of increased awareness of environmental issues, ALS should be in the forefront as a disease which truly seems to be the byproduct of environmental toxins. Awareness is key and YOU can help. ALS is a disease that takes young, healthy, vital people and strips their muscles away one by one until they are forced to either live out their days on a ventilator or die of respiratory failure. YOU can make a difference by the millions that you impact. Ted Koppel did that years ago with Morrie Schwartz. Advances have been made since then on “how” people live with ALS thanks to modern technology. Yet, hardly any advances have been made in a cure or public awareness of this horrible disease. As Marty's friend, I promised, I would help make sure to continue his fight against ALS. Please help us to honor those who have died and those who are living with ALS so their battle is not in vain.

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