Faces of ALS: Lending a helping hand

Ashley RosenbrockFaces of ALS, Home Page

Navy veteran Jim Schlader, his wife Sue, and their neighbor Larry Nieman have lived next door to each other for six years. During that time, they have developed a friendship that has become more like family.

“Jim and Sue have been like parents to me and my partner, Daniel,” says Larry. “Jim has always been great with our son Ethan and is also like a grandfather figure to him.”

Two years ago, Jim began to lose his voice. His wife, Sue, who has been living with multiple sclerosis (MS), asked her neurologist for an opinion.

“At that time I was doing well enough to only have to see my doctor once a year,” says Sue. “Fortunately, Jim happened to be with me on that visit, so we could ask the doctor about Jim’s symptoms.”

Sue’s neurologist recommended that they make an appointment at the Lois Insolia Clinic at Northwestern Medicine. Because Sue and Jim were hesitant about traveling into the city from their home in McHenry, Larry volunteered to bring them for their first visit. During an appointment with clinic director Senda Ajroud-Driss, MD, Jim was diagnosed with ALS in July 2021.

During their visit, they were introduced to the Les Turner ALS Foundation and connected with ALS Support Services Coordinator Karen Steffens, RN.

“Karen has been tremendous help when it comes to any scheduling issues and remembering details of things that we may have forgotten,” says Larry. “Anything that Karen says, we listen to. If we didn’t have her, we’d be pulling our hair out. Karen is the glue that puts everything together, and we now consider her a friend.”

“Jim’s diagnosis was a real struggle,” says Sue. “But how far we’ve come has been incredible in my eyes. We realized that an ALS diagnosis doesn’t mean an immediate death sentence.”

Dr. Driss invited Jim to participate in one of the many clinical trials at the Lois Insolia Clinic at the Les Turner ALS Center at Northwestern Medicine, and he agreed.

Since Jim’s diagnosis, Larry and Sue have been sharing caregiving responsibilities.

“Caregiving is exhausting. I couldn’t do this without Larry’s help,” says Sue. “I also need to stay healthy and make sure to take care of myself especially because of my MS.”

For Larry, having grown up in a caring and supportive family, there was no hesitation about helping Jim and supporting Sue.

“It just made sense for me to help Jim because not only does he live close by, but he and Sue are like family,” says Larry. “During Jim’s ALS journey, we’re both learning a lot. I am tech-savvy and can do some things that Sue cannot do. I can also be there with Jim when she can’t.”

Despite their support for each other, Larry believes that talking with others who are in a similar situation would provide much needed and additional support for them. Larry is currently looking into support groups and other resources for the family.

“Our New Year’s resolution is to look into the support groups offered by the Les Turner ALS Foundation. It’s time for us to get more emotional support, because that’s something we all need during this difficult ALS journey,” says Larry.

During this holiday season, please consider donating so that families like Jim’s – and the caregivers who mean so much to them – can continue receiving the resources and support they need from the Foundation.