Health update, late August 2019

It’s been roughly three months since I shared my ALS diagnosis publicly and posted an encouraging update on my condition. Some friends have asked for an update. Here is the latest.

The short version, and the good news, is I continue to be generally stable. I can still walk 2-3 miles at a clip, and muscle weakness remains confined to my legs.

The longer version is a bit more complicated and puzzling. Over the summer, I noticed a deterioration in my gait. It was harder to walk, I slowed, and muscles in my thigh and quads were sore. I never fell, but I felt less stable on my feet. Eventually I realized that the problem was mainly my left foot and ankle, which had become a lot weaker in a short period of time. I was having to use other leg muscles to compensate.

But at the same time, my right foot and leg — which was where the trouble first started — continue to grow stronger. The result is that I now have a right leg that feels more reliable than the left leg, a reverse of the past two and a half years. The motion sensors I wear as part of a medical project to gauge velocity and strength in my limbs have produced data that supports this observation.

There are several possible explanations, all of which are long and boring, so I’ll spare you. My hope is that the same trajectory which my right leg is taking — weakening and then re-strengthening — is what will happen to the left leg, and that the new drug for ALS I am taking (Radicava) is responsible for the re-strengthening. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, I’ve bought a walking cane, mainly as a precaution, and I’ll soon start wearing a foot brace that wraps around my calf and slides inside my shoe to help with the left foot drop. When I tried the brace on at the clinic last week it made a huge difference in my ability to walk with a better, steadier gait. That will be very liberating.


Author: Ken Menkhaus

Professor of Political Science at Davidson College. Specialist on Somalia and the Horn of Africa. Interests include development, statebuilding, informal governance systems, peace and conflict studies, and political Islam. I also teach on philanthropy and the non-profit sector.

One thought on “Health update, late August 2019”

  1. That sounds very encouraging, Ken, and when I saw you today, you seemed to have a very confident gait. I know it’s one day at a time as this quixotic disease unfolds, but every good day and every positive development is wonderful. I continue to be amazed at how much you do for your faculty colleagues, students, the college, your family, and community — under any circumstances!


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