Some random ALS info, hopefully helpful

I’m capturing stuff here that I don’t want to lose track of. Most of these items I’d like to turn into blogs some day for the newly diagnosed with ALS or newly trached ALS patients.

For now, this random melee is what I have time for.

Link to functional medicine doctors:

Newly trached or g-tubed? Be sure to hold on to your prior trach or g-tube for training caregivers. Also, as soon as you can, start working on acquiring your next trach and g-tube (or having a backup trach and g-tube). We were surprised to find out that we were expected to have our own trach when we went in for our first trach change. It’s recommended you change your trach every month, but many insurance plans pay for only one trach every 3 months. So you have to figure out where you can purchase trachs. We use Health Products For You quite a bit:

We’ve heard they’ve stopped making the comfortable trach (flexible, and low profile).

Things that are terribly broken in ALS land

Hospital dangers

Many (all?) hospitals know nothing about how to keep an ALS patient alive. We have heard our same complaints from ALS patients across America, so this is not from only our experiences. The below combination is deadly:

  • Hospital staff doesn’t understand that when a patient has absolutely no way to signal AND aspirates 5 to 12 times per hour (very common in ALS!!!) it means that that patient must be monitored 24/7. No alarms go off when an ALS patient chokes/suffocates because they cannot cough strongly enough.
  • Hospital staff doesn’t understand that by “monitor” we mean looking at the patient’s face every 30 – 60 seconds AND interpreting the patient’s subtle facial muscle movements. A patient with only subtle facial movements as communication can say 50 or more things in his/her “facial language” to someone who has been trained to speak that language. Most importantly, the patient can tell you what is needed to clear their airway (rainout removal, trach suction, cough assist, neb, etc.) which saves a minimum of 10 minutes while choking.
  • Hospital staff is overworked and cannot remember anything that is not standard protocol. Standard protocol can kill most advanced stage ALS patients.
  • Hospital staff believes that ALS patients don’t have any feeling in their body. (!!!) Even after you repeatedly tell them, they forget.
  • If a trained caregiver/interpreter isn’t bedside at all times (including for tests like MRIs, getting positioned for surgery, getting wheeled to recovery room, and being in recovery room), it can be deadly for the patient and at the very least injurious, torturous, and terrifying.
  • Hospital RTs (at least in America) for the most part don’t seem to be trained on cross-contamination or efficient and safe trach suction techniques. A trained caregiver can get the patient’s airway cleared under 20 seconds, including face muscle interpretation time.
  • Hospital staff is not trained on the importance of a patient’s yes and no signal nor trained on how to use a letterboard. Nor how to ask yes or no questions. Even if you train them, they forget, time after time.
  • Hospital rolls are very dangerous for ALS patients. We hear this over and over and Pat actually got a slipped disc in his neck from his first hospital roll.
  • We have heard this from several RTs who are very knowledgeable about ALS and who have worked in different hospitals. It is maddening to them (and us) that RT staff in hospitals don’t understand that the rules on trach suction frequency change for people who cannot swallow saliva (pALS). pALS can aspirate up to 12+ times per hour and cannot be told “oh you just did a trach suction an hour ago so we need to wait another hour” while the pALS is choking. RTs will sit and watch a patient choke and suffocate thinking the patient will “re-stabilize” magically somehow. They don’t understand that at home, when the patient is having a “juicy” couple of hours, we are suctioning every 5-20 minutes. (Note that hospital RTs are trained to hit the carina every trach suction–completely unnecessary and could be deadly for ALS patients.) We have to have this discussion with every new RT and it simply doesn’t stick bc it’s not in their training.

Access to treatments that work

ALS patients cannot get access to treatments that have proven to slow and/or stop ALS, such as NurOwn, even when that treatment has been proven to work on particular patients in its trial or EAP. Young adults in the NurOwn EAP are being denied a drug that the evidence says works on THEM SPECIFICALLY. Not only that, the FDA won’t even agree to listen to the ALS experts and trial primary investigators on the matter. This 30+ year pattern of failure of the FDA not approving drugs that work on ALS patients must stop. A perfect drug is poised to break this pattern–NurOwn. The NurOwn trial PIs, the participants, the EAP, and the trial’s peer review, all say the same thing–it works! Absolutely no one refutes that the EAP is 100% proof it works. Yet CBER/ the FDA drags and drags its feet and ALSA National (the only large ALS non-profit not to support NurOwn approval before the EAP results) sits idly by to this day.

Once a drug/biolgic from small pharma gets approved by the FDA, it opens the floodgates for the hundreds of other promising treatments you’ve read about over the years from small pharma. If you wonder why for 30+ years these haven’t seen the light of day, it’s because small pharma doesn’t have the money to take the drug to the next phase, especially given the likelihood that it will get rejected by the FDA for no good reason. We just need one drug to show that the FDA will (FINALLY!!!) follow its own guidance document where it promises to give regulatory flexibility to deadly diseases with unmet needs.


There is absolutely no way to pay for 24/7 care needed once trached except to burn through your life savings and ask friends and family for help or sign over all your belongings to medicaid.

This sad state of affairs results from the care being intense and requiring intense training. Care companies like Visiting Angels don’t allow their caregivers to do trach suctions and such, which means they are of little use as a caregiver. And private duty nursing companies are unable to find staff willing to work with ALS patients (and let’s face it–they have trouble finding staff to just do the easy jobs!)

All this adds up to requiring you to find and train from scratch your own caregivers on sites like (we recommend avoiding based on our extensive experience with that site). And for the privilege of training and managing them yourself you also get to pay them nearly double the going rate for caregivers.

VOCSN – all ALS patients should qualify

ALS patients should all qualify for VOCSN ventilators, and there should be an effort underway to help create more of these ventilators and supplies for them. Reasons include: they ingeniously are small yet have 5 machines in one. They have batteries that last a long time AND that you can pop out and replace with fully charged batteries. They are much more comfortable for patients. They have a quiet (and more powerful than any standing machine) suction machine as one of the 5 machines–critical when you aspirate every 5 – 10 minutes–standing suction machines sound like jackhammers and they are right beside the patient and caregiver’s ear. The VOCSN suction is a whisper. (If you’ve never slept with a jackhammer going off every 5-10 minutes you can simply take my word for it–it is impossible.)

Getting to the root cause

Even though there are 57 documented reversals, nearly all of which used the same basic protocol/practice to reverse as documented by, very few if any clinicians investigate these or try to get to the bottom of each patient’s ALS, which is the first step of each of the reversals. ALS patient is on their own to do all this research. ALS is YOYO as Sandy Morris put it (You are On Your Own).

While many health issues and disease states make you do your own research, it typically is not AS burdensome as it is for ALS, because at the same time you are researching ALS you are also 1) getting your affairs in order bc you don’t expect to live past a year or so – and good luck wading through SSDI, insurance, retirement, etc. 2) trying to tell your loved ones you’re dying while trying to make fond memories with them/bucket list 3) researching how to deal with/equip needed for each month’s new massive function loss (and learning that equipment–also, you are largely on your own trying to get and learn this equipment) 4) processing the loss of each function/your life 5) managing your new business that makes no money – interviewing caregivers, scheduling them, doing payroll, fundraising for your care, etc.

No resources to give your boss

As a patient or caregiver, there is absolutely no resource, like a video or document, that you can send your boss when diagnosed that explains what you are up against. They simply have to take your word for it, even though you are just starting to understand this new nightmare yourself.

Home health needs serious help

It’s tough to get nurse visits and supplies through home health agencies and DME providers. We were lucky to find 2 rockstar DMEs recently, but we struggled for years before that. Even with our amazing DME providers today, we cannot get the most basic and critical to life supplies we need. For example, the most comfortable trach (low-profile cuff and flexible) has just had production stopped on it. No other company is picking up the ball to make these trachs. I don’t believe any org is trying to fix this. My guess is because there aren’t many diseases that require long-term use of trach tubes or insurance won’t cover the comfortable ones. At any rate — BROKEN!

There is a connector called “flex trach adapter” that makes it much easier to put the vent on and off a patient — plus it is more comfortable than any connector because it is lightweight where it connects to the trach–doesn’t pull the trach. Just recently these have become–can you guess–discontinued.

The list goes on and on (humidifiers that heat the tubing AND let you control the water temp have been discontinued, red caps to keep tubing clean while not in use–discontinued, heated wire tubing itself is scarce, etc. etc.)

Articles or reports of treatments having “potential” or “promise”

This is gripe is not one of the “terribly broken” things, but articles geared toward ALS patients that discuss trial results need to cut to the chase. Patients don’t need to read through paragraphs on how the trial is conducted, how many are in the trial, bla bla bla. The lead needs to be 1) Drug XYZ showed ABC possible benefit and 3) How can I get this drug while the long absurd and dead end process of getting it approved takes place (off label, mix supplements myself, etc.) 3) Drug XYZ is or is not damaging to the liver, kidneys, etc. (ie what are the drawbacks of taking the drug)

Red tape campaign for ALS

Leaders who are effective in the ALS landscape (Brian Wallach, Mike Henson, Michelle Lorenz, to name a few) are uniting and have created the Red Tape campaign. If successful, the campaign could finally get working drugs in bodies and possibly save Pat’s life.

The Red Tape campaign’s main goal is to get congressional hearings to hold the FDA accountable for its recent uninformed (or corrupt? we don’t know) decisions on NurOwn and AMX00035.

Please take a minute to join the red tape campaign… it’s free and easy! You can even be creative and artistic with how you capture being killed by red tape! All you need to do is take a picture of yourself with red tape over your mouth with your eyes closed and post it to social media @mentioning your house rep and senators and some other key players like @SecBecerra @PattyMurray @SenatorBurr @FrankPallone @RepAnnaEshoo @cathymcmorris @brettguthrie (those are Twitter handles but you can find the equivalent on Instagram, TikTok, etc.) For example, below is my Twitter tweet.

You can download this PDF for a pre-made sign to hold (page 1 of PDF) and an image of red tape with the word “dead” printed on it (page 2 of PDF).

Be sure to include the #ALShearing hashtag and #nomoredead hashtag. Be sure to change your profile picture to the same red tape picture during the month of May, ALS Awareness Month.

For details, watch the NME video at

If you’re not sure who your congresspeople are, another quick way to participate is to fill out this I AM ALS form, which also gives you the name of your congresspeople.

Free letterboard download

To apply to our current open position, go to Advanced Caregiver position.

After about 15 minutes of searching the internet, the ALSA site, clinic sites, Pinterest, and various other ALS sites, I couldn’t find a downloadable letterboard, so I made my own. This thing has saved the day several times for us. If your loved one with ALS can no longer mouth words (which for us happened in the space of about 14 days), you need a way to quickly communicate words or phrases through blinks.

DOWNLOAD THE BOARD HERE (it’s free, no obligations or weird stuff–we just hope this helps you in some way): letterboard.pdf

The way this board works to communicate through blinks:

  1. Print it double sided, using the “flip on short edge” setting.
  2. Place the “board” (really, the sheet of paper you just printed) in a good reading position for the ALS patient. The numbers should go in order for the patient (left to right, as one normally reads in English).
  3. The back of the board should be facing you. Your column numbers are backwards to mirror what the patient is seeing.
  4. Once the board is in position, you watch the patient’s eyes as you ask “Is the first letter in column 1? Column 2? etc.” You go through the columns until the patient blinks.
    Okay so now you know what column the first letter is in. Let’s say the patient blinked at column 2.
  5. Then you read down the letters in the column, in this example, column 2.  “Is it F? G? H? I? etc.” until the patient blinks.
    Now you know what the first letter of the word is. Let’s say the patient blinked at “F”. (You might want to write down this first letter on a nearby notepad, at least the first few times you use the letterboard–until you get used to remembering the letters.)
  6. You repeat steps 4 and 5 to get to the second letter in the word. Let’s say it’s “E”.
    In our case, “FE” would be enough to know that the patient is trying to tell us something about his feet. Typically it’s that he wants the foot flexers put on.

Please feel free to comment or ask questions below. I check in about once per week. And while we hope this helps you, we are also saddened that you have a need for it. Please know our hearts are with you every step of this journey.

The NurOwn drone

The members of NME see it. I AM ALS sees it. I see it. Ellen Degeneres sees it (see this video). These 29+ people see it (my list of 29 NurOwn responders). Yet several groups, ALS Association (ALSA) included, and some individuals drone on and on about how we must wait for a long and drawn out formal analysis of phase 3 NurOwn data, the date of which has been pushed back three times since 2018. If you have working eyeballs, you should be able to see what the rest of us see: enough data is in to move on this. But why do you say you can’t see it? Please ask yourself today why you perpetuate the NurOwn drone. NurOwn worked in 35% of those treated (since 2016). It’s safe. FDA has approved far less effective drugs for far less brutal diseases. Something is fishy and we need to get to the bottom of it.

And where was your droning when Radicava, which had only one trial on just over 100 individuals in Japan (no U.S. trial!) was approved? You say things like “there’s a cost differential of $70k per year” and “well there are complexities that come with NurOwn (freezing stem cells and cultivating the cells)”. Yes, while these are facts, they should not also be insurmountable obstacles given the brutality of ALS.  You know that these things can be easily overcome thanks to the millions raised yearly in the name of promising ALS treatments.

And where was your droning when Zolgensma got approved before phase 3, based on data from only 21 patients? Zolgensma’s pricetag is $2.125 million for one treatment for one patient.

And where was your droning when the  antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) for the FUS P525L mutation was rushed out with essentially no trial? Pricetag per patient is $700,000 for the first treatment and around $350 for all treatments after (multiple treatments per year).

Are you watching the many untested treatments for COVID getting rolled out today? They are being studied as they get rolled out. Are you also against this? Pres. Trump gives half a billion to Johnson & Johnson, who doesn’t even have a COVID clinical trial.

These are just examples I stumbled upon, so there are undoubtedly many more like this.

If you are part of the NurOwn drone — ALS Association, Dagmar Munn, NORD, the Exec VP of Mission Strategy of ALSA who went on national TV saying NurOwn doesn’t work long term (!!!) and so many others who say there isn’t enough data and who say NurOwn doesn’t work long term — please have a second think about the impact of your actions. Please  consider your droning in context of other drugs approved with less testing and less witnessed effectiveness. Please look into the 29+ ALS patients who are clear NurOwn responders. And please, for the love of all humanity, stop saying that NurOwn doesn’t work on advanced-stage patients, doesn’t work long term, and doesn’t work on certain patient types.  NurOwn worked on the four advanced-stage patients it was tested on. And if you’re so science-driven (as you purport), WHERE are you getting that NurOwn hasn’t worked on the long term?! It works on the only person who has used it long term, Matt Bellina. It likely works on various patient types too (so stop saying it doesn’t, stop standing in our way, & stop using patient types as a reason to delay rollout!)

If you’ve been in this fight long enough, you’ve seen Brainstorm point to the FDA as its reason for not allowing NurOwn access through Right to Try. Next you saw FDA more or less tell Brainstorm not to use the FDA as a scapegoat. Then you saw Brainstorm say it needs funding (like support from ALSA) in order to roll out NurOwn. Next you saw ALSA use Brainstorm as the excuse (saying Brainstorm basically did not want to take it to the next level yet). Then ALSA retracted that and went back to an earlier reason they gave, with this open letter, saying that they simply don’t fund treatments in phase 3 but they do  fund “promising research.”     (!!!)

Droner, do not perpetuate this clusterfudge that is the NurOwn rollout. Really ask yourself why for so many years you’ve been standing in between my amazing husband and the treatment that will likely provide a bridge to his next bridge, which may be a bridge to the cure. Please see that the fight against ALS needs to match the ferocity of ALS. We need to quickly work together (FDA, ALSA, and Brainstorm), be creative,  plan it out (QUICKLY!), then get ‘er done. ALSA, you can make up for past mistakes but you’ve got to start NOW. Funding should be the least of the hurdles at this point.

Yours respectfully,



Potential class action lawsuit against Brainstorm:—bcli-301239286.html

Lung health–what to do when

Mara here. When we started running into choking issues with ALS, there were many days and nights where I didn’t think I could get the love of my life’s airway clear. Get him to the other side of it.

Then a friend introduced me to an RT who made a table of “what to do when” for me. It changed everything. I’m no longer terrified when we have a choking incident. Even better, because we use the daily regimen described below the table, we have far fewer choking incidents and zero hyperventilation incidents.

I hope this table brings you as much peace AND peace of mind as it did me:

      Lung table – when to do what (updated August 2022).

Mara’s list of NurOwn responders

Updated 5/1/2021, first version published 8/20/2019

I’ve found 30 responders to NurOwn (below). Mike Henson, who tracks cases closely, cites 40. On Feb. 22, 2021, the FDA denied NurOwn, even though NurOwn showed statistical significance in 35% of trial participants and worked in many of the other participants (ie, NurOwn works). The FDA’s denial is absurd, even ignoring the brutality of ALS. Same story with AMX00035 and Alzheimer’s aducanumab. FDA has approved less effective drugs with harsher side effects, which is why we need a congressional hearing ASAP. Join the red tape movement if you haven’t already.

A close friend helped me gain access to the trial [at Mass Gen], which was a first of its kind. My stem cells were harvested and sent to the City of Hope, Calif., where they were grown and then injected back into my spinal cord. This trial involved 14 trips to Boston over a 12-month period — I was the first person in the U.S. to complete the trial. Throughout, we felt that the stem cells were slowing the progression of the disease, and that I was one of the lucky ones receiving my own stem cells as opposed to the placebo. Unfortunately, after the completion of the year-long study, my stem cells were no longer available to me.

  • Person 25: Gayle Boone—Galye was in Phase 3 and says it works, says, “My decline stopped while receiving treatments.”  She says it should be rolled out now.
  • Person 26: Ryoichi Hosoya—Saw improvements in function while on trial. Saw reversal and slowing of progression while in trial.
  • Probable 27-30 (5 more responders) from Mike’s list. But he gives only initials to protect privacy:  NL, GP, JM, SC. I can’t independently confirm but I trust Mike.
  • Possible persons 31 and 32—Two ladies who do not wish to go public, cited in a meeting of an organization I belong to. Might be separate but I suspect this is referring to Cathy Martin.
  • Possible person 33—I saw another person NurOwn has worked on who attended the No More Excuses protest June 12. I’ll try to track down their name. Might be a duplicate of one of the above.
  • Possible person 34—Dawn mentions another Phase 3 participant she talked with during the trial who went from not being able to walk at for 15 months to walking again. Might be a duplicate.

The above are just those I stumbled upon. There are probably several more. Only about 160 have received the treatment over the 10 years it’s been in trial!

Upon release of the Phase 2 results in Jan. 2016, when my beloved was early stage, ALS orgs should’ve been doing everything possible to get NurOwn to patients immediately. Yet when I asked them, all I could get was excuses.

Thanks go to Mike Henson of No More Excuses for most of these and to Dr. Shah Mino for several of them.

Please contact your reps by Jan. 30

Dear friends and family,

I have an update on my last ask AND another ask (greedy! but I truly believe this could save Pat’s life).

You may recall or even helped with my last ask of contacting your congressman asking them to sign a letter from Mike Coffman, which had 3 asks.

Well 11 or so congressman signed the letter and 40+ voiced their support for it (effectively signing it). Then Mike Coffman was voted out of office. So while there’s no longer “a Mike Coffman letter” to sign, the asks remain nearly the same and besides, it’s not about the letter. It’s about educating the congressman about how behind ALS research and funding is and about finding out if the congressmen is with us or not in getting our modest requests fulfilled.

Although my ask today is similar to my last one, there are some differences. So here’s what I’d like you to do now, and I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t think this could save Pat:

  • If you’ve already contacted your 3 congressman (House Rep and 2 Senators) or their health aides per my last ask and they’ve gotten back to you, please let me know what each said. If they didn’t get back to you or said no, please call them before Jan. 30 and:
    • Remind them of the 3 asks (below) and ask if they will support them and help you/I AM ALS make them happen. If they say yes, let me know and you’re done! If not:
      • Ask why, record their answer (to send to me).
      • Ask if the congressmen will please meet with Sandy Morris or Cathy Collet on Feb. 13 in DC to discuss these asks. Tell the congressman that Sandy and Cathy are representing you, their constituent. The congressman can set up a time to meet Feb. 13 by contacting them directly at Sandy Morris,, 530-448-1622, or Cathy Collet
      • Ask them to drop by the More Than Our Stories event in DC Feb. 12.
      • If they cannot commit to Feb. 12 or 13, ask them to contact Sandy or Cathy directly to discuss (so they can better see our side and we can better see theirs).
    • If you haven’t contacted your 3 congressman, please call them before Jan. 30 and ask if they’re familiar with the three asks (below). If they don’t want to support the asks, go through the above four bullets. If they’re unfamiliar with the asks, tell them what they are, then ask if they could please meet with Sandy and Cathy per above (or if not, could they call them to discuss).
    • In any case, let me know who you’ve contacted so I can give YOUR name as constituent names to Sandy and Cathy. They will reach out and try to set up a meeting with your congressmen.

The 3 asks

  • ALS patients want access to experimental drugs until a treatment or cure is found. We don’t care if it’s through RTT, Extended Access, clinical trials, or what mechanism.
  • We want the same/similar FDA guidance document that other diseases have. We want wording like “RTT and EAP does not affect drug companies’ trials or put them in a liable position.” We want more humane clinical trials like oncology has (limited placebo usage, if on placebo then you can get the real drug right after trial, and you can get access to the treatment after the trial if it’s working for you).
  • We want a single point of contact at the FDA who can work with I AM ALS (and other ALS groups) moving forward.

How to answer “Can you do an extended stay with us?”

One of the few silver linings of having ALS is that you are often asked by friends and family if you can come for a stay so they can spoil you rotten. We highly recommend saying yes to this question, because you will indeed get spoiled rotten.

However, the answer to “Can you come stay with us?” isn’t a simple yes-or-no if you’re in a powerchair and have to be “hoyered” to bed and bath. We recently had to capture these requirements so we could stay with a friend, so we wanted to share them in case they can help other PALS (person with ALS). We hope that PALS, as we do, can fire off this list to friends or family and be that much closer to getting spoiled. Note that our powerchair is a Permobil and our hoyer is a Molift 150, but we suspect the measurements will work for nearly all powerchairs and wheelchairs and most hoyers (but as always, best to check it out for yourself!)

Powerchair and hoyer lift requirements (assuming you have a portable ramp)

  • First, measure the bed and “bathroom area,” because if those don’t work, there’s no need to measure the rest.
    • Bed—Measure the clearance under the bed the PALS will sleep on (for the hoyer lift). The height between the floor and the bottom of the bed must be 4.8” or greater.
    • Bed—Under the bed must be clear to 35” of the side of the bed that has the most floor space (for hoyer lift maneuvering). The hoyer’s two 35” “feet” must both be able to roll all the way under the bed.
    • Bedroom—You need enough room to be able to “park” the powerchair and roll the hoyer lift around it so that the hoyer’s two long feet surround the powerchair. Then you need to be able to back the hoyer lift away from the powerchair (with the PALS in it) and turn its long feet under the bed (to lower PALS into the bed).
    • Bathroom (or a place to park the shower chair)—You need quite a bit of space when the PALS needs to use the bathroom. We need a place for the shower chair to sit (preferably in a bathroom or on a non-carpeted floor but not required). The shower chair must have a decent amount of clearance around it so the hoyer lift can roll around it so the hoyer’s two feet can surround the showerchair.
    • Basically you need room to maneuver three rather large pieces of equipment.
  • Showers—If there’s no roll-in shower with enough clearance to fit an entire shower chair, you’ll need to find a nearby hotel with this if you’re staying longer than the PALS wants to sponge-bath-only showers.
  • Measure any doorways needed to get into the house/cabin, to get into an accessible bedroom, to get into a bathroom area, and to get into the gathering area (where people will hang out)or of any tight turns along the path. You need a 30” wide clearance.
  • Stairs–You’ll need the measurements of any stairs needed to get into the areas listed above (house, bedroom, etc.) as follows:
    • The height of the steps from the bottom of the bottom-most step to the top of the topmost step.
    • The horizontal measurement of the stairs, from the bottom of the first step to the top of the last step.
    • (Basically you need the ratio of full stair height to full stair width for each staircase or set of steps.)
  • Stair landings—For the most part, they won’t work, but if they’re really big, they could work. You’ll need measurements to make sure there’s enough room to move the ramp past the PALS (unless you have two ramps) and enough room for the PALS to get off the ramp so it can be placed again (unless you have two ramps).
  • Stair wall clearance–Walls around the stairs must be 30” apart the whole way (powerchair is 30” wide).
  • If all of the above measurements look good, measure any tight “turns” in the pathway (halls, doorways) to get to any of the areas listed above (house, bedroom, etc.)

First shimmer of hope—there’s a way you can help!

Mara here, saying hello to our tribe and others just joining the amazing ALS community we’ve come to love.

Today for the first time since the diagnosis, I have hope that we may actually put the brakes on Pat’s progression (not just beat it back a little only to have it return the next day). This optimism is thanks to I AM ALS, an organization intent on breaking down the same barriers to treatment that Pat and I have wanted to break down.

These obstacles, all man-made, sit between my husband, Pat, and several promising treatments in late trial phases. The obstacles can be overcome by 1) the FDA taking actions related to the recent federal Right to Try (RTT) law and 2) putting funds in key places to speed up the research.

While I want to laser focus on #1 and #2 above, what I’m asking you to do in this blog post relates only to #1. (As an aside, I’m also passionate about making trials more humane, which is another I AM ALS initiative. So I’ve included that ask in this blog  post as well.)

So here’s what you can do (and please do this as soon as you can, as every ALS patient has a ticking clock on their head):

Write to the contact below and include the three bullets (three things we want the FDA to do) from the letter from Mike Coffman (CO, 6th), Ask FDA to Finalize Guidance for ALS and RTT (PDF) (or just attach the whole letter). The three things are: finalize the guideline for research, publish a guideline that better opens up access to ALS drugs/treatments in trials, and appoint an ALS point person in the FDA.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D.
Commissioner, Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993

Example letter (feel free to use in part or in whole or use your own words):

Dear Dr. Gottlieb,

My [friend/family], Pat Dolan, along with 1 in 400 battling ALS, is in a fight for his life, and you can save him by connecting him with the promising treatments (in trial) today.  I beg you to listen closely to PALS (patients with ALS) when you/the FDA meet with them Feb. 11. I’m sure you/the FDA, together with Congress, could come up with creative solutions to remove the barriers (man-made) to these treatments TODAY. I beg you to put time and resources to fast track us, but short of that, I ask that you support the three “asks” outlined in the attached letter from Mike Coffman (CO, 6th), Ask FDA to Finalize Guidance for ALS and RTT (PDF).

The three asks are: 1) quickly finalize the guideline for research 2) publish a guideline that better opens up access to ALS drugs/treatments in trials and 3) appoint an ALS point person in the FDA.

Please contact Pat’s wife, Mara ( for details on how the FDA can help or how this disease drastically negatively impacts families, communities, insurance companies, and health care (why ALS deserves all FDA gun barrels pointed at it until it is stopped). But in summary, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s) kills 50% of those diagnosed within 15 months, basically by eating them alive. ALS has been studied for 149 years and we still are far from knowing what causes it; we don’t have any REAL treatments for it. All we have are a handful of promising trials, but even those are out of PALS’ reach, in large part due to FDA guidelines not accounting for the ferocity and complexity of ALS, as explained in the attached.

Pat’s case is typical. Like all PALS, every day Pat fights to preserve function, only to lose ground the next day. Seeing promising treatments in trials, Pat last summer applied for three of the most promising trials (NurOwn, FORTITUDE, and a steroid) near where he lives. He met the published eligibility criteria for all three (strict as they were). After fighting to get screened for those trials before the 2-years-from-diagnosis date arrived (a date which dooms all ALS patients to ineligibility), then going through the screening process for each, Pat was told he was ineligible for all three. Why? Well each reason given was flimsy: 1) His progression is “just shy” of being fast enough (even though he was running daily in February 2016 and now no longer has use of his arms, hands, legs, or torso)  2) He has a port (he didn’t want to remove his port for a short-term trial, a decision that disqualified him, even though he would not use the port during the trial) 3) He had been taking Radicava and would have to go off of it for several months, which would’ve put him past the 2-year-since-diagnosis mark (Radicava is the only drug believed to do anything remotely worthwhile for ALS, which is to slow progression by a third in some patients).

The kicker is that even if Pat would’ve gotten into one of these trials, he would spend what little time and energy left in his life dealing with invasive procedures, endless trips to the clinic for status reports and all for nothing if he was in the placebo group (50% chance!)

Another kicker… if Pat were lucky enough to get into a trial, not get the placebo, and the trial treatment worked, there is no way, even with his own money, that he could continue on the treatment that could save his life. Not through Right to Try, not through the Early Adopter Program, not through the trial. 

Even though the promising NurOwn treatment is being administered to trial participants (well, 50% of them!) next door to Pat, he’s unable to get it. To get the treatment, he must do what several PALS are doing: move to Korea. Can you imagine a worse decision–stay in America to be eaten alive while your loved ones helplessly watch… or pick up and move to Korea. During the most desperate, chaotic, vulnerable time of your life, a time when you have a mountain of day-to-day requirements, move to a foreign country where you have no support system and you don’t speak the same language as your doctors, or for that matter, your neighbors. Good luck surviving the long trip to Korea in the first place with most stages of ALS. Also good luck getting the money for this fun relocation, as most ALS patients require two caregivers and lots of equipment at a minimum, almost none of which is covered by insurance.

Getting NurOwn and other promising treatments into PALS as soon as possible is the only humane thing for the FDA, trial clinics, pharmacies, and Americans to work together to GET DONE NOW.  With collaboration and creativity, it is within our power to stop ALS in its tracks, possibly before its ridiculous milestone of year 150 in 2019, and possibly in time to save Pat.

[Be sure to include a bit about the disease impact from your perspective–adding the human element helps… bonus if you can include a picture of Pat. There are some at

Send an email and/or snail mail to your congressman/legislative aide and attach the Ask FDA to Finalize Guidance for ALS and RTT  letter. Then the most important part: follow up two weeks later via phone call or even a visit. You may get access to the actual house rep but most likely it will be one of their legislative aides. Stay in contact with the aide, especially if the rep isn’t signing—find out why they’re not signing and let me know their answer (or let I AM ALS know).

Here’s suggested wording for the email/letter, but of course use as you see fit. Include a picture of Pat and his story, in your words.

Note! Nine House members have already joined our cause, so if you contact them, thank yous only to them! The nine are: Mike Coffman (CO, 6th), Andy Biggs (AZ, 5th) Ken Buck from Colorado (4th), Doug Landborn from CO (5th), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA, 1st),  Mike Quigly (IL 5th), Barbara Comstock (VA, 10th) Tom McClintock (CA 4th), Walter Jones (NC, 3rd).  

Dear [name of your congressman preceded with “Honorable” and/or name of their legislative aide].

My [friend/family], Pat Dolan, along with 1 in 400 battling ALS, is in a fight for his life, and you have the power to save him by connecting him with the promising treatments (in trial) today.

Currently there are several drugs and treatments in late-phase trials that have shown great promise in helping people with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) battle this terrible disease. If you’re not familiar with the disease, imaging watching someone you love being eaten alive over the course of 6 to 36 months and there’s nothing you can do about it—no one knows what causes the disease, even though it will be 150 years old next year.

Terminal patients would be able to get these treatments if it weren’t for a few man-made obstacles. Please join the initiative to remove these obstacles by asking the FDA to:

  • Finalize its guideline for research
  • Publish a guideline that better opens up access to drugs/treatments in trials
  • Appoint an ALS point person in the FDA

Details for these three requests are provided in the attached letter, Ask FDA to Finalize Guidance for ALS and RTT (PDF), which you may have seen come across your desk from Mike Coffman as well.

These three asks, while significant, would be even better served if you (Congress) could brainstorm with I AM ALS and other groups intent on fast-tracking research to figure out how to get to a real treatment TODAY. It’s time to get creative while pointing all gun barrels at ALS so it doesn’t reach year 150 with no treatment and next to nothing known about it.

[Insert Pat’s story above here, or parts of it. Attach a picture with Patrick Dolan.]


[At the end of the letter, give a little bit about how the disease has impacted you and others you’ve observed—make it clear how devastating and terrible this disease is. Include a picture of Pat (some are at Then don’t forget to sign it and include your contact info. In two weeks call your rep (get rep’s aide’s name that you’re working with) to make sure it was received. Ask for a status (if not signed, ask why). Keep in touch with your contact–don’tlet up!