ALS support fund awards first scholarship

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One in an occasional series by The Pittsburgh Press

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, he became a member. He decided he would be an active one.

The 47-year-old father of two, along with his wife, Suzanne, founded in March 2012 to raise funds for research for ALS treatment and to support families affected by the disease. So far, they have 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.

Today, announced the first recipient of its newest initiative, a college scholarship for the children of people diagnosed with ALS, which 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 today. "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."

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 two and a half 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 today, predicting the scholarship would 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, which has made ALS the main target of its philanthropy. Mr. Alexander, recognized for his work in ALS, was inducted into the fraternity last year.

To be eligible for the scholarships, students must either be a member 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. Information about applying can be found at

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

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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