Every day an average of 15 people will be diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease. It's a slow, paralyzing disease that still doesn't have a cure.
Glenn Bolkema was your typical 44-year old Midwest guy when doctors diagnosed him with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
"I had heard of Lou Gehrig's, which ALS is Lou Gehrig's, but I didn't know in detail what it was." Said Bolkema.
ALS is a degenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord that causes motor neurons to slowly die off.
"That results in the weakness of your voluntary muscles, your skeletal muscles so your speech, your swallowing, your extremities and your respiratory muscles." Said Dr. Karen Garnaas, a neurologist with Avera McKennan.
ALS ultimately can lead to full paralysis. While he's lived with the disease for the past decade, Glenn's ALS has progressed slower than most patients, but it's still a never-ending struggle.
"I was a very strong person and to have that slowly on deterioration of the strength was really tough." Said Bolkema.
But Glenn is not letting ALS completely control his life. With the help of Dr. Garnaas and the team at the Avera Neuroscience Institute, once every few months, Glenn makes the drive from Jasper to monitor his ALS progression. The Avera Neuroscience Institute's ALS Clinic is the first multi-disciplinary clinic of it's kind to be held in South Dakota. Dr. Garnaas calls it one stop shopping, which benefits the large patient base, like Glenn who come in from out of town.
"You can see all the people at one time, it does get a little bit long because it takes time but it's worth it because you can get all those consultations done at one time." Said Bolkema.
"We all see them, each with our own perspective and expertise and then we get together and we talk about each patient and develop a plan of care for them." Said Dr. Garnaas.
Avera Health, Neurology Associates, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the ALS Association partnered together two year's ago to launch the ALS clinic. But it was the idea of Dr. Garnaas to create a clinic that provides the type of care this disease requires. Dr. Garnaas lost her brother to ALS and has since dedicated her life to helping others fight and live their life.
"There's no question I want this disease gone, I've seen way to many people that have died from the disease, we have to come up with a cure and until we come up with a cure we offer services like this in South Dakota." Said Dr. Garnaas.
While he and other ALS patients wait for that cure, Glenn finds peace in the hope that doctors are learning more about his disease and ultimately may be able to spare others the pain he's had to endure.
"I believe there's a reason and a plan and God has a purpose for what's taken place and I feel it will all work out and it will all be the way it's supposed to be." Said Bolkema.
While you might not think it at first glance, but Glenn Bolkema truly is one of the strongest men you'll ever meet.
Glenn has also become an advocate for ALS and helps lead small group discussions. "ALS Family and Friends" meet every second Saturday at 10:30am in the Sanford USD Medical Center's Surgical Tower conference room. These get together's are open to everyone who's interested.
The Walk to Defeat ALS is also coming up on Saturday, October 20, at the Sioux Empire Mall in Sioux Falls. This fundraiser helps support the research that will hopefully find a cure for the degenerative disease. You can register your own team or support a team by clicking here.
For more information about the ALS Clinic just call 877-AT-AVERA