Florida ALS patient speaks out on issues dealing with disabilities

"God has placed people with ALS in my life," says Richard Pollack. "As long as I can help any of them that's what I'm here for."It’s easy to spot when you walk in. A beautiful piece of furniture that you’d guess came from a high end department store. But that’s not the case. It was an old dresser that 37 year old Richard Pollock re-finished himself. This do it yourself-project was impressive, and there are others. But that was then. Before Pollock was diagnosed with ALS-most commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

He has a wheel chair and a cane to help him get around. Sitting at his dining room table he opens his left hand.

He shows that the muscles aren’t there. He can’t grasp and hold things like he could. Out of necessity because of the disease there are things that need to happen to his Arlington home to make it functional. Such as widening the arch to get through the hallway that leads from the living room to the rest of the house. He probably could have done it himself at one point.

“Any muscle that you can voluntarily control ALS will affect,” said Pollock.

Pollock was diagnosed with ALS on Dec. 22 2014. Three days before Christmas.

He started to notice that he was having problems using power tools to take care of all of his projects so he went to a doctor. A series of tests were done where Pollock said they basically rule everything else out, until you’re diagnosed with ALS.

“After all of these tests-then a neurosurgeon said there’s not really anything I could do for you.  I think you may have ALS,” said Pollock who said he immediately went home and with his wife Googled it.

What he’s learned is that treatment may extend his life, but there’s no cure.

“ALS will completely paralyze you. You won’t be able to breathe on your own. You won’t be able to do anything for yourself. I can’t walk long distances. I do have some breathing issues,” said Pollock

Julie Niehoff, Director of Marketing and Communications with the ALS Association Florida Chapter agreed with Pollock.

“It is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that robs people of their ability to walk, talk, eat, and eventually breathe, all while leaving the cognitive brain completely intact in most cases,” she said.

According to Niehoff there are about 30,000 people in the United States who have ALS, and the average life expectancy is about two to five years after diagnosis. She also said there’s no known cause for the disease.

A father of two Pollock said, “We know what we have to look forward to. It’s not a happy thing to look forward.”

Yet Pollock said none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Now he lives each day with purpose. He’s made videos for his daughters. He knows he won’t likely be there when the youngest who is 11 graduates or his eldest who is 20 gets married.

Despite his optimism that part is tough.

His illness makes holding a pen tough, but he made a point to write letters for both of his girls.

He also plans to bank his voice with the help of a computer when it gets too difficult for him to physically talk that way he’ll still be able to speak.

“Not knowing was horrific. But now we’ve found a new normal, said his wife Talitha Pollock.

Pollock who attends Ft. Caroline Baptist Church credits his strong faith with helping him cope. Pollock who worked in law enforcement considered becoming a fulltime missionary at one point. Now he says  this is his mission. He’s able to speak and encourage many who are sick and frightened. 

“God has placed people with ALS in my life. As long as I can help any of them that that’s what I’m here for,” said Pollock who’s been active in speaking out on issues dealing with disabilities.

“He’s [Rich] pretty awesome. Life is not always fair. That’s just the life we were given. I’m not going to wallow in it. I’m all for advocacy if it means we can help another person,” said Talitha Pollock.

Richard Pollock said it could be worse he’s still able to eat, get around, and breathe.

“I can say I’m really blessed that I’m not at that point. My progression is a lot slower,” said Richard Pollock. 

• If you’d like to help the Pollocks have a go-fund me page under Rich & Talitha living with ALS.

Cristin Wilson is a Jacksonville-based freelance writer.

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