Doug Ernst

Napa Valley Register columnist Doug Ernst.

Advocacy is my thing. Most recently, I have been advocating for Napa Valley College, where I have worked for nearly three years as public information officer.

Today I want to share something that has been going on here in the Napa Valley for 14 years, under our radar, that is worthy of all our support.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is a fatal neurodegenerative disease of unknown origin that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

It is better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, for the beloved and world-renowned New York Yankee. More recently, it took the lives of 49er Dwight Clark, playwright Sam Shepard and Stephen Hawking, the internationally celebrated physicist, cosmologist, author and all-around genius.

The average life expectancy of a person with ALS is two to five years from diagnosis. As the disease progresses, people with ALS lose the ability to walk, move, speak, swallow and, eventually, breathe – all while the mind and senses continue to function.

At any given time, about 20,000 Americans have the disease. Every 90 minutes, another person is diagnosed, and every 90 minutes, it claims the life of yet another.

ALS is not contagious and does not discriminate – it affects men and women of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic communities around the world.

Military veterans are diagnosed with ALS nearly twice as often as the general population.

Scientists are closer than ever before to effective treatments and cures for this devastating disease, thanks to dedicated research efforts.

But the money to fuel these efforts must be raised privately through fundraisers — since there are not enough people with ALS to make a cure profitable for pharmaceutical companies. That’s a shame because scientists believe a cure for ALS would also help cure millions of people suffering from other diseases, like Alzheimer’s, Huntingon’s, Parkinson’s, frontal temporal dementia and others.

Thankfully, The ALS Association Golden West Chapter supports the search for effective treatments and cures for ALS.

Several members of the college community have volunteered to support their efforts at the 14th annual Napa Valley Ride to Defeat ALS in Yountville on Saturday, Sept. 22.

It is so fitting that this important community outreach event has been held for over a decade at the Veterans Home, to further honor those who have served.

People can ride, walk, volunteer to help out, or come down for the music and the BBQ to lend your support. Find out more at NapaValleyRide.org

I will be there to hand out beads to riders and walkers at the finish line. It’s a tradition that goes back 12 years, started by Kay Thomas, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2001, her husband Phil and their team of “Kay’s Angels,” who thanked participants for raising funds and awareness in support of the ALS community.

It’s an honor for me to help keep the tradition alive.

By working together, we can all defeat ALS.

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Doug Ernst is the Napa Valley College public information officer. Reach him at doug.ernst@napavalley.edu or (707) 256-7112.