Couple create scholarship fund for children of people with ALS

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It's a fraternity Neil Alexander of O'Hara never wanted to belong to: the group of people who share the fate of being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, the devastating illness also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

Yet two years ago, when he became a member, he decided he would be an active one.

Mr. Alexander, a 47-year-old father of two, announced this week that, the organization he and his wife, Suzanne Alexander, founded in March 2012, had named the first recipient of its newest initiative, a college scholarship for the children of people diagnosed with ALS. The disease has a life expectancy of two to five years after diagnosis for the average patient.

"Our goal is to help limit the impact that ALS has on families," Mr. Alexander said Thursday. "Although at this point, it doesn't seem we can limit the impact of the disease, we can limit the impact it has on families."

Since its founding, has raised $500,000, funding causes including financial grants for the children of ALS patients and grants toward patient care through the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of the ALS Association.

The newest program, Mr. Alexander said, should eventually fund seven college scholarships a year.

The first scholarship, a $1,500 amount that renews each year, will go to David Martin, 20, of Burlington, Wis. Mr. Martin, a rising junior at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., is the second oldest of six children. His father, James Martin, 45, was diagnosed with ALS 21/2 years ago and has had to retire from working due to the illness.

"It's really going to lighten the burden on my family," David Martin said Thursday, predicting the scholarship would also be a "huge blessing" to the families who receive it in the future.

The scholarship program itself is a nod to the fraternity Gehrig belonged to as a student at Columbia University in New York. Phi Delta Theta, with about 196,000 living members, has made ALS research and patients the main target of its philanthropy, said Chris Brussalis, president and CEO of The Hill Group, Inc in Carnegie and member of Phi Delta Theta's board.

Mr. Brussalis met Mr. Alexander and, recognizing his ALS work, invited him to join Phi Delta Theta. Mr. Alexander was inducted into the fraternity last year.

The scholarship program is open to students who are either members of Phi Delta Theta and the child of a parent with ALS or the son or daughter of a Phi Delta Theta brother who has ALS or whose wife has the disease. David Martin is a Phi Delta Theta member.

"We want to communicate to other ALS patients that you have a community," Mr. Alexander said.

Information about applying for the websitecan be found at

education - neigh_north - health

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707. First Published June 22, 2013 4:00 AM


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