BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A thousand people paid to have a special meal at White Oak Plantation on Sunday, Oct. 1. Every dollar raised at that event is going to help someone locally living with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, to live comfortably. The fundraiser was held in honor of long time WAFB News Anchor Donna Britt, who is facing that same battle.
At least $32,000 was raised Sunday and that money goes straight to the ALS Association of Louisiana and Mississippi, which serves nearly 290 ALS patients.. Officials said that money allows them to provide patients with personalized in-home care and home modifications.
"For every ALS patient, it's different," said Paula Shamsie, Executive Director of the ALS Association of Louisiana and Mississippi. "For some patients, it may start with your walking, you're unable to maintain your balance, your muscles start to kind of deteriorate. You may lose your ability to swallow."
Donna Britt isn't fighting this alone. She has the help of her family and the spirit of the community by her side. She's fighting back.
"It's that I'm around people that I love. I just think my life is good. I'm very blessed," said Britt.
It's not only a huge life changer, it puts many families under a financial strain when some ALS patients require 24-hour care.
"A family member becomes that around the clock caregiver. They have insurance to cover their treatments but it's all the other things like home modifications, medications, and wheelchairs." Shamsie said, "If your family member is staying home to care for you, that's another source of income that's not coming in."
And that's where the ALS Association of Louisiana and Mississippi steps in.
"One of the things that we do that most people don't realize is, we have a durable medical closet. For an ALS patient, if you've seen these wheelchairs that are very fancy, that's about $58,000 for a patient. Until these patients have their insurance covered and get that situated, we provide loaner wheelchairs," Shamsie said.
She said for most ALS patients a wheelchair becomes an extension of their body and means of communication.
Experts said the more people learn about ALS, the more opportunities there are for research, that may one day uncover new treatment options and cures.
"It's not just about an athlete, it's not just a male disease. It looks like all of us and it can strike anyone at any time," Shamsie said.
"My family stays upbeat with me and I stay upbeat," Donna said. "It's just meeting every challenge as it comes and so we're helping them help the families. It's perfect."
Officials said a small percentage of money raised for the ALS Association of Louisiana and Mississippi does go to the national home office to help fund potentially lifesaving research.
To learn more about ALS or make a donation, click here.