Medical Hero Story: Sandy Morris, ALS Advocate

On January 6, 2018, at the age of 51, Sandy Morris was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as ALS. ALS is a progressive nervous system disease that affects the nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord. The disease causes individuals to lose control of the muscles needed to move, speak, eat and breathe. According to the ALS Association, every 90 minutes someone is diagnosed with ALS and someone passes as a result of the disease. There is currently no cure for this debilitating disease. 

Sandy spoke candidly about the effects of ALS, “No one wants their body to trap them.” A mother of 3, she was determined not to give up hope. Following the advice of her best friend, she got involved in a clinical trial at the California Pacific Medical Center. As part of the trial, she had to undergo bone marrow extraction in order to retrieve stem cells which was followed by a series of infusions and lumbar punctures. Although the clinical trial involved invasive procedures, she describes her experience as an overall positive one. Regarding her participation Sandy stressed, “I would rather die trying. I don’t want to just accept my fate.” 

ALS affects everyone differently. Sandy explained, “How we progress is totally unique. I have some friends who can’t talk but can walk, and others who can walk but can’t talk.” For individuals considering participating in a trial, she stressed the importance of being well informed by researching the treatment being tested. Sandy shared her willingness to participate in future clinical trials and encourages others to educate themselves until ALS treatments and cures are found. She encourages others to get involved noting, “That’s the only way we’re going to move forward.” 

 There are currently four medications available to treat ALS. But more research remains to be done to find a cure. Despite ALS being a fatal disease, Sandy remains hopeful, “We just need a happy ending and we don’t have one yet.” Her advice for other ALS patients and their loved ones is to remain as positive as possible while learning to live with their disease, something she acknowledges is not an easy thing to do.  

Sandy discussed ways she wants to continue to make a difference including attending FDA meetings to share her experience and influence more efficient, humane clinical trial design. She also stressed the importance of pharmaceutical companies and patients working together to create clinical trials. Her goal is to create hope for the future. Sandy stressed, “I want to make sure that the next 51-year-old mother of three doesn’t have to hear she has ALS period. I want a comma, nothing finalized.” 

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