Art benefit

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Art is being enlisted to help fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a progressive disease that affects up to 35,000 Americans.

To benefit the Carolinas Neuromuscular/ALS-MDA Center at Carolinas Medical Center, painter Robert Langford has organized “Create for a Cure,” an exhibit scheduled for Nov. 12 featuring his work and that of five other artists who will donate a share of the proceeds to the center.

The event also aims to raise awareness about the disease, says Langford, whose wife, Velma, a respiratory therapist, is part of the center’s team.

Formed in 1997 with $3 million donated by six families, several hundred residents and a handful of local corporations that wanted a local ALS facility, the center is one of roughly three-dozen in the United States that treat patients afflicted with the illness, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

ALS involves deterioration of motor neurons and pathways in the brain and spinal cord that disrupt connection to muscles throughout the body, resulting in increasing paralysis.

“It is a chronic illness,” says Dr. Jeffrey Rosenfeld, the center’s director. “We’re in the business of helping people live with this disease.”

The center, which treats patients from at least 35 states and four other countries, is unusual because its treatment is both interdisciplinary and aggressive, Rosenfeld says.

Because many people diagnosed with a motor-neuron disease initially are given little hope of improvement, Rosenfeld says, they “immediately adopt a sense of hopelessness.”

But during a two-day evaluation, he says, the center tries to turn that attitude around, offering patients and their families “resources at a time they need them.”

Those resources include equipment, medication, therapy and aggressive clinical-research trials, he says.

The overall goal is to improve patients’ quality of life and health, Rosenfeld says, with therapy and intervention ranging from changes in nutrition and breathing to the use of novel equipment and a variety of medications.

Unlike similar centers, which may enlist staff from a larger medical facility when needed, the center employs its own staff of 15, including doctors, social workers, a nutritionist and equipment specialist, and physical, occupational and speech therapists, although it also draws on the hospital staff.

The center, which has increased its endowment to $4 million, also has received $2 million for research, and has raised another $1 million from a six-year-old annual golf event, “Pinstripes: Golfing for Gehrig,” that in September raised more than $270,000.

It also raised more than $70,000 through an initiative created by Mike Rucker, a defensive lineman for the Carolina Panthers, who recruited donors agreeing to give a total of $6,000 each time he sacked an opposing quarterback.

This year, donors have pledged more than $8,000 for each sack he makes.

Opening night for Create for a Cure, which will include live music and the sale of a limited-edition poster, will be held from 7 p.m. to midnight at 1507 Camden Road in the South End historical arts district in a building owned by Gaines Brown of Gaines Brown Design.

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