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Letter From The Void

This letter was written in 2010 by another PALS who has since passed. I didn’t always agree with him about certain things, but on this we most definitely do: ALSA National is letting us down. They have a nonexistent communication campaign unless it is to beg money from PALS (people already under severe financial stress). They have a basic research program that receives a small portion of the budget and no translational program (to move prospective drugs from the lab to the patient). They purport to provide equipment and services yet quietly refer people to other organizations because they “just don’t do that”. PALS may have good experience with their local Chapter (the OT in mine is an absolute superwoman) but there is no consistency between each Chapter.

This letter was written in 2010 and is unfortunately still true. ALSA is failing us.

Ms. Jane Gilbert,
I am writing to you as a 48 year old former airline pilot and victim of ALS, now in my fourth year. The purpose of this communication is to convey my terrible disappointment with the performance of the ALS Association at the national level. In my view, ALSA national is not putting the best interest of the patient community first. The game of baseball provides an excellent visual model of the awareness, advocacy, and research dynamics. Awareness is first base, advocacy is second base, research is third base, and a TRULY effective treatment resides on home base. Sadly, although the game has been playing for decades, the patient community has yet to reach first base. We have no unified national voice and no public awareness program. ALSA seems content to send e-mails to the patient community encouraging the purchase of cheap Chinese bracelets and have this serve as a national awareness program, which it clearly is not. The bedrock of an effective national awareness program is a series of public service announcements airing consistently on national networks. Anything less is a waste of time and resources. Here is what I can see during a typical day of television viewing. See if you can discover a pattern. Quite often on ABC at 6:45pm, I see an excellent PSA from the Alzheimer’s Association, nothing from ALSA. I see KFC commercials for the “pink bucket” of chicken to support breast cancer initiatives, nothing from ALSA. I see PSAs for the breast cancer walk in DC on May 9th, nothing from ALSA. I see the PSA for the MS walk,nothing from ALSA. I see a PSA for the Epilepsy walk, nothing from ALSA. Earlier this year I saw yogurt commercials highlighting the “pink cap” for breast cancer, nothing from ALSA. Do you see the clear pattern that quickly emerges, Ms. Gilbert? Is this disservice to the patient community something to be proud of? ALS continues to be one of the best kept secrets in America because our national organization stubbornly refuses to initiate a consistent program of FREE public service announcements. Can you explain why ALSA refuses to place PSAs on national television? ALS Canada sets a fine example with their public awareness program, that includes an excellent PSA depicting all the phases of ALS in just a few seconds. After their PSA aired for a while, ALS Canada was pleased to notice a large increase in revenue. The PSA system is proven to increase awareness and donations, but it will not work if ALSA refuses to use it at the national level. Considering the bleak prognosis of the patient group, we need the loudest, most radical national organization to push progressive change. Anything less is a disservice to the ALS community. Because there is no national awareness program, and we haven’t reached first base, advocacy is suffering on second base. An effective advocacy program depends upon an effective public awareness program. The public must know the details of ALS in order to support our cause. Likewise for those who control the federal research funds. A new phrase has been circulating on ALS blogs and forums. Anemic Advocacy. The sole use of this new phrase is to describe the advocacy of ALSA at the national level. Last year, we went to the Hill with tin cans to beg for only 5 million dollars from the DOD. This year we are asked to again approach the Hill for only 15 million dollars. While other patient groups demand adequate funding, we are encouraged to move in and sweep up the crumbs. Do you realize that even in 2001, HIV research was supported by 4 billion federal dollars? This year, the Alzheimer’s Association is demanding 2 billion dollars. ALSA acknowledges that 95% of ALS research projects will go unfunded. This would not be the case if ALSA demanded real money instead of pocket change. This year, I will spend my time at the Missing Parts display. I will not carry the can to beg for table scraps. I will however, be willing to climb the Hill to demand not less than 250 million dollars in federal research funding. Swift access to investigational new drugs was a listed legislative priority in 2005 and 2006. Now that important priority is gone, and we still cannot access new drugs. When I asked ALSA for help with obtaining Iplex last summer, there was no interest. Why?I realize that ALSA may not be able to correct the many deficiencies in the research community, so I’ll not dwell long on the third base of the model. Increased funding will help, as will increased communication between all research efforts. A major victory would be achieved if the conventional clinical trial structure were overhauled to reflect the reality of a fast moving condition such as ALS. The process must be simplified and streamlined. When patients don’t live long enough to complete a trial, something is wrong. Just a few more concerns left. I know that a letter was sent to ALSA national some weeks ago asking that all organizations involved in the fight against ALS be welcomed to present at Advocacy Days. The request was denied. As a result, other fine organizations are forced to use the lobby or other hotels. Why is ALSA national so hostile to other organizations that just want to help? We need a unified effort, not political turf wars. What is the issue with signs this year? Last year, my daughter and I carried signs to increase ALS awareness and inform the public of our plight. The signs were very effective and well received at the conference, among the public, and on the Hill. Without signs, you can only bring the message to people next to you, if you still have a voice. You may know that many ALS patients lose their voice, therefor signs are the only means of personal expression and communication. With a sign, I can reach every person within 50′ of my chair. I don’t appreciate being lied to. ALSA seeks to prohibit free speech citing existing regulations prohibiting signs on the hotel property. Quick communication with the JW Marriott reveals that there is no regulation against signs. The element of trust has been damaged. I will once again bring my signs to communicate with the people. I do not wish to cause a disruption and I ask that ALSA not instigate a confrontation by attempting to take my voice away. I notice that the schedule is open on Sunday until 2 pm. Why are our veterans not being honored with a wreath this year?This is a public letter published on ALS forums. I challenge you to take the stage on Monday morning. Many within the ALS patient community will be interested in what you have to say.

3 thoughts on “Letter From The Void”

  1. I must admit that I saw for the first time last night a PSA from ALSA on television (11:00 and 11:30 on Comedy Central. It’s a good first step but we need this featuring a current celebrity and on more mainstream channels in more prime-time slots.

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