Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Executive Finds New Strength in Disease's Legacy

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Executive Finds New Strength in Disease's Legacy

Article excerpt

Neil Alexander has been given a bad break.

In June, the 46-year-old husband and father of two young children from O'Hara was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that leads to the "glass coffin." The mind remains intact, but a person with ALS loses use of his hands, arms and legs, then has trouble swallowing and breathing. Most die from suffocation three to five years after diagnosis.

"Not only is there no cure for ALS, there's no effective treatment whatsoever," said Mr. Alexander, the director of corporate services for Downtown-based financial management firm Hefren- Tillotson Inc.

When he learned he had the disease, "all the air left the room," Mr. Alexander said. Yet in the days after his diagnosis, Mr. Alexander, a lifelong baseball fan and history buff, took solace in the example of baseball legend Lou Gehrig, who got his bad break more than seven decades ago.

ALS ended the career of Gehrig, a Yankees Hall of Famer, but in a 1939 speech at Yankee Stadium he said he still considered himself "the luckiest man on the face of this earth." Since his death in 1941, ALS has become known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Mr. Alexander and his wife, Suzanne, decided they were going to approach the disease with the same optimism and grace displayed by Gehrig and his wife.

"When I was diagnosed, I felt like I had been inducted into a club," Mr. Alexander said. "Somebody was saying to me somewhere, 'Hey, we know this is pretty tough. But this is how you are expected to act. And you are expected to act like this, because this is the standard that Lou Gehrig set.'

"And rather than being a burden for me, it was a strength."

Other organizations, such as the ALS Association Western Pennsylvania Chapter, are involved in ALS support and research efforts, but the Alexanders plan to use his diagnosis to create their own rallying cry.

They have established a fund at The Pittsburgh Foundation that will increase awareness of ALS, help finance medical research and offer support to people with ALS in Western Pennsylvania. …

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