Brian Wallach’s life changed drastically shortly after his second daughter was born. While at the hospital, Brian’s wife Sandra told him to get his nasty cough checked out. The man wasn’t really feeling ill at the time, although he did notice that his left hand wasn’t as strong as it should be and he regularly dealt with noticeable cramps.
“For me, the first symptom was actually a weakness in my left hand, and like any 37-year-old guy, I totally ignored that for a while,” the new father told PEOPLE.
“While we were at the hospital, my wife noticed that I caught a cough, so she sent me to the doctor to have that cough looked at,” he says. “She has also trained me really well to tell the doctor every malady I was suffering. So I mentioned to him that I had had this weird cramping and weakness in my left hand.”
The doctor didn’t really think much of the hand cramps, but further examination led to a terrible diagnosis.
Brian said that the doctor noticed that all of the muscles in his left arm were twitching abnormally. Cramps now and then are nothing to worry about, but the whole arm being affected was definitely a sign that neurologically, something was very wrong.
However, it still took a number of months before Brian finally had confirmation about his condition. It started to become clear that the man was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS.
“It was probably the most difficult thing in my life. I was kind of processing it outside of myself because you had to think: how could this be happening?” he recalls.
The disease has absolutely horrendous symptoms as patients slowly start losing control over their own bodies.
Brain cells are affected as well as the spine, which directly controls muscle movement. Brian will be suffering from a lot more cramps and pains, but in time, he’ll also lose the ability to walk, eat and speak. He won’t even be able to breathe independently at a later stage.
He just recently welcomed a baby to the world, and then this terrible news struck at the age of just 37 years old.
“I got home and my wife knew that something was wrong, so I explained to her what ALS was and I think the first thing you do in a moment like that is you just cry,” he added. “You know, you’re 37. You see a whole life in front of you and now all of a sudden that life may not exist.”
There is no known cure for ALS, but that doesn’t mean that Brian is giving up.
The man isn’t a stranger to being in tough situations. He’s a former White House Counsel Office staff member, joined Barack Obama’s campaign twelve years ago and worked under his administration as a lawyer.
After he was diagnosed, the doctor actually encouraged him to help fight the disease, not only for himself but on a larger scale. With his skills as a lawyer and a wide network, the doctor believed that Brian could actually make a difference for the thousands of people suffering from the disease worldwide.
“To say we were shocked hearing that from a doctor is an understatement,” the man recalls.
Recently, Brian and his wife Sandra founded the I Am ALS organization, which serves both as a community and a platform for fundraising, research, and awareness.
“People are being diagnosed and being told they have no hope,” Brian mentioned. “We have to find a way to create a world community that surrounds them with hope, then actually do more than that.”
And the organization has already been quite successful. In fact, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative – which was founded by Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook and his wife Priscilla Chan – donated no less than $450,000 towards the good cause. President Barack Obama and his foundation have also contributed and spread the word about I AM ALS.
A story worth sharing: Twelve years ago, Brian joined my first presidential campaign. Two years ago, he was diagnosed with ALS and launched @iamalsorg to find a cure. Brian and Sandra wake up every day believing that we can win this fight—and that makes me hopeful, too. pic.twitter.com/eETCgFnLgP
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 30, 2019
“Every piece brings us closer to the ultimate solution to this issue, treatment, so 10 years, 20 years down the road we can change the world,” Brian added.
As for Brian, he believes there is still hope and keeps fighting. For himself, for his family, for everyone else with ALS.
“Often, where someone’s gone through a life-changing experience like ALS, the natural reaction is to have sympathy or pity. What we would like to engender is this can happen to all of us or any of us, so we’re all in this together,” he concluded. “Don’t feel bad for us, join us, and help make this thing a relic of the past, because we can make that happen.”
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