PLATTSBURGH — At 48, David Pearce was enjoying the wonder of parenthood.
He was the primary-care provider for his 3-year-old son, Michael, and the youngster had become the center of his life.
The challenges of caring for an energetic toddler became ever more complicated earlier this year when David was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
“Last July, we were at a family function and kind of noticed some slowness and delay in speech in David, along with a little bit of weight loss,” said his sister, Ellen Gordon. “We didn’t think that much about it, but again at Christmas, we noticed a bit of atrophy with his hands, difficulty zipping his coat.”
David’s weight loss seemed to be more dramatic at that time as well, and the normally quiet, reserved man told his loved ones that he was suffering from extreme fatigue.
“I noticed his speech was weak and slowed,” Ellen said. “He was having a lot of muscle twitching, and he knew that something was going on. He finally decided to go to the doctor to find out.”
After an initial doctor visit, he was referred to a Plattsburgh neurologist. Preliminary tests suggested David was battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, but he was referred to the ALS clinic in Burlington, Vt., where the diagnosis was confirmed in April.
“I remember calling my brother (after the diagnosis), and he was not totally on board with it,” Ellen said of David’s determination not to accept the dreaded diagnosis. “There are a lot of other things that can mimic ALS. It wasn’t until a month later and several more tests before everything else was ruled out.”
ALS, also referred to as a motor neuron disease, affects cells in the brain and spinal cord. Progressive degeneration destroys those cells, cutting off the brain’s ability to control muscles. In the later stages of the disease, the patient can become totally paralyzed.