ELMORE COUNTY -- There is a mysterious link between veterans and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, and for some unknown reason veterans have nearly a 60 percent higher risk of contracting ALS than civilians.
KTVB's Dee Sarton spent time with a veteran fighting ALS who is working hard to raise awareness.
Chris Wickmark is a Cher look alike with a passion for Harley's, disco and pigs.
"Well, as long as I can walk and dance I'm fine," said Wickmark.
However, dancing, walking, and pig farming have become increasingly difficult.
"See my finger, they said I had trigger finger. Trigger finger. Yea, and I went what? So okay whatever. And I went to my other doctor, and said you know my hands are getting weak, and I thought maybe I had some nerve damage in my arm, so I went to him and you could tell, he was like ...um, um, um. Let me send you to a neurologist, so I went over and had all these tests and they diagnosed me with ALS. "
As Wickmark would soon learn, ALS is a devastating diagnosis. And for some unknown reason, the fact that she's a veteran put her at greater risk of developing ALS. Military members are twice as likely of dying from the disease as people with no military history.
"They say your average is four or five years. Well not me. Mine's 50. I'm not leaving here anytime soon," said Wickmark.
ALS is a progressive disease. Most people know about it from Lou Gehrig's famous speech in 1939 announcing that he had this disease that robs the body of its ability to control muscles and leads to total paralysis in its later stages.
"When I first got diagnosed, I didn't understand anything and all that, and then I got home and got my music playing, went on my walk, I'm going over the hill and I had a total melt down. Now, I'm not a crier person, and so what happened is my favorite song "Disco Inferno" started playing cheered me up, and I went dancing the rest of my walk and never again have I cried about this," said Wickmark.
Instead, Wickmark is busy raising awareness, and her favorite disco band, the Trammps is helping. Her inspiring "Disco Inferno" story caught the attention of the National ALS Association, and they sponsored a recent trip where Wickmark danced her way through an entire concert and created a video to help in the effort to warn veterans of their risk.
The most important thing, Wickmark says, is raising money for research to find better treatments and a cure, and in the meantime - keep dancing.
"You have to enjoy your life. That's very very important, and just enjoy it, and have fun every single day. Cuz you never know, you never know what's going to happen, and so that's why when people say, "Have a good day," I do, I do every day, yes."
Wickmark credits her love of disco and dancing for helping her fend off effects of ALS. Meanwhile, she's hoping that she will be able to participate in a clinical trial for new treatments, and it is a hopeful time.
KTVB talked with the lead researcher with the National ALS Association, and she says recent progress has been explosive.
"We're very much close to finding potential treatments especially with the discovery of some recent genes. So in the next five to six years the treatment landscape will certainly be changing," said Dr. Lucie Bruijin, ALS researcher.
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