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Servicemen with ALS share bond thanks to VA Clinic caregivers

ST. LOUIS - They served their country and now they are living with ALS. We met two servicemen who have a special bond thanks to their caregivers.

Two veterans: one Army, one Air Force; and both are living with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Ken Danridge and Sean Nolan bonded while receiving care at the VA St. Louis ALS Clinic at John Cochran Hospital. Ken's wife, Amy, appreciates the clinic's team of caring professionals.

“They offer amazing support. Anything we need, they’re just a phone call away. From the simplest things to the wheelchair, to the computer that will help him talk,” Amy Danridge said.

As the disease progresses, the communication device is essential because patients lose the ability to speak.

Sean Nolan actually teaches others how to use their eyes to spell the words on the computer.

Both men describe what they find most challenging living with ALS.

“The help that is required by me,” Sean said. “And that it changes week by week.”

“I was very active,” Ken said. “But now my arms don’t work like they used to.”

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease leading to total paralysis. It is fatal within a few years of diagnosis. Veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS as the general population. Anndee Glick, MSN and RN, is the Clinical Coordinator for the VA’s ALS clinic.

“We don’t know exactly why the disease touches veterans the way it does. Veterans from different areas of service are impacted, from Vietnam to the Korean War to the Gulf War,” Glick said.

When vets come to the VA Hospital, they are treated by a team of professionals which include speech and occupational therapists, dieticians, neurologists, social workers, and psychologists. Patients see many of the caregivers in one day. Multiple trips to the hospital can be stressful.

The entire family is affected, according to Sean's wife, Nicole Nolen.

“We were diagnosed. It’s not him, it is we. The whole family is diagnosed. It changes lives,” she said.

Nicole's daughter, Jaylynn Meyer, finds herself emotionally connected to her step-father.

“It’s hard sometimes at home. I do struggle with depression and anxiety,” she said. “So, not only is he going through his thing, I’m also kind of going through it with him.”

If you want to help support ALS research and services, you don't want to miss the annual Ice Bucket Bash. It's Friday, November 16 at Four Seasons.