Doug Voeller, a Minot Realtor, was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), or Lou Gehrig's Disease, in October of 2007. Voeller brought awareness of the ALS Association's efforts and walks to defeat ALS to his fellow real estate agents before he passed away in March.
Now, the Minot Board of Realtors has stepped up to organize Minot's first Walk to Defeat ALS. The ALS Association has also expanded its Minnesota chapter to include serving North Dakota as well.
"It was Doug's hope that we would be able to get information into people's hands. When he was first diagnosed, we didn't know who to contact for help. We're so grateful that the ALS Association has come to North Dakota, so people can have that support right away," Terry Voeller, wife of the late Doug Voeller, said.
Katina Tengesdal/MDN - - Melody Sundbakken, public relations chair for the Minot Board of Realtors, left, and Terry Voeller walk through Oak Park as they discuss plans for the upcoming Walk to Defeat ALS.
Voeller explained that it took six months after her husband's diagnosis to find the appropriate supports. For someone with ALS, six months seems an eternity because the disease progresses quickly.
She was able to get information from Doug and Janet Schelling, another couple who struggled with ALS. Doug Schelling has since passed away, and the two women continue to develop a friendship. From advice from the Schellings, the Voellers traveled to the Muscular Dystrophy Association clinic in Fargo.
"At the clinic, we learned what to expect and what equipment was needed," Voeller said. "At first the equipment was as simple as fatter pens so he could grip them to write, and button hooks -- just little apparatuses that make life a little more comfortable."
Walk to Defeat ALS
Minot's Walk to Defeat ALS will be held Saturday, May 15 in Oak Park with registration beginning at 9 a.m. and the walk beginning at 10 a.m. The walk will consist of two loops around Oak Park's walking trail, or three miles, though individuals can walk as much as they are able. To register for the walk ahead of time, people can visit (www.walktodefeatals.org).
"Then it progressed to walkers and even power chairs," she said.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells. A patient's voluntary muscle movement is greatly affected. There is no cure for ALS, and the progressive degeneration of neurons eventually leads to the patient's death.
"It started with a little slurring of his speech," Voeller said. "At first, I thought he was just trying to talk too fast. His brother, a doctor in Oregon, urged him to go in and be seen by a physician. We were blindsided by the diagnosis."
"His speech and swallowing were affected first and he eventually needed a food tube in his stomach to get nutrition," Voeller said. "His dexterity he kept for quite a while, and he was able to use the computer and speaking devices when he couldn't speak. Toward the end, he could still use one finger for texting."
Over the course of her husband's illness, Voeller recalled looking for every bit of information they could find on ALS and being disappointed that there was no medication or procedure that could prolong his life. Now Voeller wants to try and give hope to other families going through the same thing.
"Doug was very humbled by the support of the Board of Realtors, and very grateful," Voeller said. "If we can give hope to these families (that experience ALS), we would like to connect with them."
Doug had mentioned the ALS walk to colleagues, and they were eager to take it on as a spring service project to the community. A representative from the Minnesota Chapter of the ALS Association visited with the real estate agents, and the idea for the walk was off and running.
"We want to raise awareness of ALS, and raise money to help people locally. We saw how important it was to have resources available to families," Melody Sundbakken, public relations chair for the Minot Board of Realtors, said.
"The money that is raised at the walk will go towards equipment for people with ALS, research, and administrative costs of the ALS Association. Our hope is to have 500 walkers turn out and raise $15,000," she added.