May 16, 2013
Updated May 17, 2013 at 5:28 PM CST
BARTONVILLE, Ill -- May is ALS Awareness month, and it's estimated that more than 5,000 people are diagnosed with the deadly disease each year.
"I couldn't grip anything, Shannon had to do things around the house I couldn't do any longer," said ALS patient Bill Maule.
The 74 year old has weakness in both his arms and legs but is still able to walk. He's a fighter, a champ and a man with a heart of gold but his illness is no shining gold.
"ALS is a neuro-degenerative syndrome where nerves that help control muscle movement start to deteriorate and die off. It can affect the muscles of the arms and the legs or it can affect speech, swallowing or even breathing," said Dr. Chris Zallek of the Illinois Neurological Institute.
Maule uses a walker sometimes, a motorized wheel chair and a handicap van, something the VA bought for him. He was in the Air Force for four years, which may serve as a link to his diagnosis.
"When you look at people who have served in the armed services compared to the general population, there's about an increase of 2 times over the general population's risk for developing ALS," added Dr. Zallek.
Dr. Zallek says there is no explanation as to why but researchers continue to explore several different theories.
"It's a terrible disease, it progresses so slowly, you just lose muscle tone, your muscle just goes away," said Maule.
But not Bill's spirit.
"The disease in a way, it's funny, you just have to have a sense of humor about it."
"You never think you're going to be in this position. This is something I never thought I would be in," said Shannon Maule, Bill's wife.
There is no cure for ALS, yet scientists continue research to find a cure or at least slow the progression. The life expectancy for ALS patients is typically 3-5 years.
There is a way you can help fight ALS. The annual Walk to Defeat ALS will be held June 8 at Dozer Park in downtown Peoria.