Health Team

Miss N.C. tries to raise awareness, money for ALS

Posted July 23, 2008 5:45 p.m. EDT
Updated July 23, 2008 6:33 p.m. EDT

— The newly crowned Miss North Carolina Amanda Watson is hoping to attract more money for research to find a cure or effective treatment for Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease that usually attacks both upper and lower motor neurons and causes degeneration throughout the brain and spinal cord, according to the ALS Association.

About 30,000 people in the United States have ALS.

Watson, of Garner, made ALS her personal platform. She recently filmed a statewide television advertisement at the Duke ALS Clinic to raise awareness and money for research.

“My grandfather and great grandfather passed away from ALS - Lou Gehrig's disease - and when they passed away it was even less known that it is today,” Watson said.

Allen Lake, 50, suffers increasing weakness in his arm and has difficulty breathing.

“The first symptoms that I had were about a year and a half ago and there was just a weakness in my left hand. I was unable to button my shirt cuff button,” Lake said.

Duke Neurologist Dr. Richard Bedlack said it takes about 14 months from the time someone has their first symptom to the day doctors are able to give a definitive diagnosis.

“That’s way too long,” Bedlack said.

Animal research shows effective drug treatment only works if given after the first symptom, which is why early diagnosis and treatment in multi disciplinary clinics is vital.

At the Duke ALS Clinic patients can take part in clinical trial. Those trials need funding.

“And the more awareness we can bring - the more money we can provide to these patients, the better off we are,” Watson said.

Research has isolated 14 different genes, any one of which - if broken - can cause ALS. The disease can run in families, but the vast majority of cases are called Sporadic ALS - without the same genetic cause.

The best treatments can prolong life and preserve some functioning - improving the quality of life throughout the disease.