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Running to help a colleague with Lou Gehrig's Disease

by Greg O'Brien

KAMLOOPS - Sandy Heimlich-Hall, the assistant news director/assignment editor at CFJC-TV7, CIFM-98.3, B-100 in Kamloops will run the Royal Victoria half-marathon on October 10th this year dedicated to her colleague, ENG cameraman Clayton Smailes.

Heimlich-Hall is pounding the pavement these days training for the 21-kilometre run, while gathering pledges as well. Smailes is one of the TV station's four ENG/cameramen and was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease - Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis - last year.

ALS is a particularly malevolent disease. It is a neurodegenerative disease that usually attacks both upper and lower motor neurons and causes degeneration throughout the brain and spinal cord. A common first symptom is a painless weakness in a hand, foot, arm or leg, which occurs in more than half of all cases. Other early symptoms include speech, swallowing or walking difficulty.

Basically, the disease robs those afflicted by it of everything a body normally does, bit by bit, but leaves brain function untouched, so its sufferers are all too aware of what's happening.

"Clayton is among the youngest in Canada to be diagnosed, as he was 29 when he got the news last year," says Heimlich-Hall, who remembers when Smailes first exhibited signs of the disease. "As one of our eng/cameramen I sent him up in a bird dog plane to spend the day documenting the efforts of fire crews trying to control the Bonaparte Plateau wildfire. After six hours he came back with an incredible story, but he noticed his hands were shaking and numb. He wrote it off to the effect of the G-forces, and holding his camera tight for so long. But it didn't get better, and that's when he went to a doctor and was diagnosed in the early fall. At the time he got the news his wife was about to give birth to their second son."

While Smailes is taking an experimental drug to slow the disease's progress, there is no cure for ALS.

Heimlich-Hall has received the okay from Smailes and the Victoria ALS Society for her fundraising run and is looking for pledges.

"Some people have asked me to pass along their encouragement to Clayton, and I have. He's been really touched by the response so far," she says. "So have I. We're not as hard-nosed as we like people to believe."

Editor's Note: I will take up the challenge first-presented by the RTNDA Canada's Terry Scott this week. My cheque for $50 is already on the way and I further challenge all industry readers to match this donation to a most worthy cause. You can call or send e-mail pledges to Sandy at 250-851-3204,

Cheques must be made out to the Victoria ALS Society and send to Sandy at: CFJC Newsroom, 460 Pemberton Terrace, Kamloops, B.C. V2C 1T5.

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