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Doctors hope new procedure will help patients with ALS

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TWC News: Doctors hope new procedure will help patients with ALS
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WINSTON-SALEM—Doctors hope a new procedure will help patients with Lou Gherig's Disease improve their quality of life.

The process works like a pacemaker for the diaphragm, making it easier for ALS patients to breathe. But doctors say more research and advances are needed to help fight the degenerative disease.

Ray West is a painter.

“I have to get them between these two fingers because my thumbs ain't no good no more. So I have to hold it with my other hand and guide it along the canvass,” West said.

But he also has ALS. It's a disease that eventually shuts the physical body down, but leaves the mind sharp. West says he's lucky, his disease is progressing slowly.

“After awhile of doing things, breathing gets hard,” West said.

But doctors hope a new procedure will help ALS patients breathe a little easier. It's called diaphragmatic pacing.

“It stimulates the diaphragm so it will contract and condition the diaphragm to make it stronger and to some extent will help move a little bit of air for some patients, so they can actually breathe better for longer,” said Dr. James Caress, Associate Professor of Neurology and the Director of the ALS Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Dr. Caress said this is one of the newest advances in treating symptoms of the fatal disease. Caress said while research for a cure is underway, they need to do more work to help people living with the disease, live better.

“A lot of people are looking at this from different ways trying to slow down whatever is causing this disease,” said Dr. Caress.

Mike Earnhardt was struggling to breathe lying down, until the procedure helped him.

“My breathing has gotten so much better. I couldn't sit here and talk this much. Just makes living with it so much more comfortable,” Earnhardt said.

West said he hopes the advances will continue, helping to improve a patients quality of life.

“I know I probably won't be cured but I hope that somebody down the road has the chance,” West said.

Anyone that wants to not only raise money but awareness, the ALS Association Jim "Catfish" Hunter Chapter will hold its annual walk Saturday in Greensboro and May 4 in Winston-Salem.

For more details and registration information, click here.

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