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Walking for a cause.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

The sign on Tony Cole's wheelchair said it all: Time to "Walk and Roll for ALS." And once again, there was Chris Cole giving his older brother a push.

"Without Chris, I couldn't have done a lot of things," said Tony, 52, who was born with cerebral palsy.

But now, it's Chris, 40, who needs Tony's support.

"I've been disabled for 52 years and I know what a long road Chris has got," Tony Cole said of his only brother. "And it really bothers me now. Just the other day, I asked him how he was feeling, and he said, `Weak.' It's just really frustrating to see him this way."

Chris Cole of Sprinfield was diagnosed about six months ago with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, after the late New York Yankees baseball great who brought international attention to the illness in 1939 when he famously announced his retirement.

Chris Cole has lost his ability to speak and uses an eraserboard and pen to communicate his thoughts. He uses a feeding tube to eat.

"I don't know how he does it," said Vee Bundrant of Eugene, Tony and Chris Cole's mother, referring to her younger son's battle with the illness.

The brothers were co-captains of a team organized by their mother for the annual Walk to Defeat ALS fundraiser in downtown Eugene on Sunday, one of six such events in Oregon this month organized by the Oregon/Southwest Washington chapter of the ALS Association.

The event raises money for ALS research and to provide support services for ALS patients and their families, walk coordinator Meagan Lancaster said. The chapter has a goal of raising $365,000 this year, and the Eugene walk had a goal of $33,000, Lancaster said. As of Friday, about $15,000 in pledges had come in, she said.

Vee Bundrant's team raised more than $1,000, most from letters she wrote to family friends asking for donations, Bundrant said.

"It was alright," Chris Cole wrote on his board in green felt pen after the walk that began and ended at the downtown Park Blocks. "I wish there would be more people."

Lancaster estimated that about 150 people participated.

Chris Cole, walking with his girlfriend, Tammy Moon, and her 14-year-old son, Kaleb, made it almost the entire loop - east on Eighth Avenue, south on Pearl Street, west on 12th Avenue, north on Oak Street - before he had to take a breather and sit down by the Overpark on Oak Street.

"A little," he wrote on his board, when asked if he got tired during the walk.

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that usually attacks both upper and lower motor neurons and causes degeneration throughout the brain and spinal cord, according to the ALS Association Web site.

A common first symptom is 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. As many as 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time. Average life expectancy is two to five years after diagnosis.

Although Chris Cole was not diagnosed with ALS until earlier this year, the disease's onset might have begun a couple of years ago, Bundrant said. Chris Cole, a 1987 graduate of Willamette High School, suffered a brain aneurysm two years ago that required surgery and caused him to lose his landscaping business, his mother said. The aneurysm is likely connected to his later diagnosis of ALS, "but we don't know," Bundrant said. After his speech became slurred, he underwent speech therapy. Then he had difficulty swallowing food. After seeing a series of doctors, he was finally diagnosed at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, she said.

Chris Cole is covered by the Oregon Health Plan and Medicaid but his inability to work and the continuing care he'll need has the family worried, Bundrant said.

But the money raised by their team goes straight to the ALS Association, she said.

"That's the way it works," Bundrant said. "We are our brother's keepers."

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Title Annotation:City/Region; The annual event raises money to fight ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 21, 2009
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