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ETSU opens region’s first-ever clinic to help those suffering from ALS

JOHNSON CITY – On Friday, East Tennessee State University celebrated the opening of the first-ever ALS clinic in the region. The Gary Shealy Memorial ALS Clinic, sponsored by the ETSU College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences, began accepting patients earlier this year.

Johnson City resident Faith Akin donated funds to the university to establish the clinic after watching her husband, the clinic’s namesake, suffer with ALS for 20 months before passing away last year, just two days after his 56th birthday.

“ALS is a devastating diagnosis. Not only is it terminal, but the process is brutal,” Akin said, noting that traveling to clinics for care becomes even more challenging as the disease progresses. “My hope is that this clinic will improve access to care and make it available to people who live here so they don’t have to travel to get the needed care.”

Health care professionals working with the patients at the new clinic include respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, dietitians, social workers and pharmacists.

“These professionals come together to conduct required quarterly evaluations of patients to determine their needs,” said Dr. Don Samples, dean of the College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences. “Each appointment lasts around two to two-and-a-half hours and each professional spends time with the patient. After the appointment, the team of providers comes together to discuss the patient’s needs and the progress of the disease. We then make recommendations to the patient’s primary care physician regarding treatment.”

The multidisciplinary clinic was established in partnership with the ALS Association of Tennessee.

“We are thrilled to launch the Gary Shealy Memorial ALS Clinic in collaboration with East Tennessee State University. Our goal in this clinic is to serve as many of the patients and families living with ALS in east Tennessee as possible,” said Steve Wallace, CEO of the ALS Association of Tennessee. “Providing comprehensive, multi-disciplinary patient care is one of the cornerstones of our work here at the ALS Association, and this new partnership with ETSU will enable both institutions to offer even more high-quality clinical care to some of the area’s most vulnerable population.”

In addition to providing needed care closer to home, the clinic provides an opportunity for ETSU students to learn more about ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and causes increasing muscle atrophy over time.

“Through the course of this journey, we learned that most health care providers don’t have experience with ALS and that felt really lonely,” Akin said. “To have a resource and also be able to train students, having that in our community, is huge. It will increase the expertise of health care providers and offer opportunities for better care for patients…

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