An ALS Veteran Story, with a Twist

Michelle Melland

Michelle Melland grew up in an army family, but that doesn’t mean that joining the army was always part of her plan. Her father was a career army officer, and Michelle grew up either on or near the army base in Leavenworth, Kansas. Still, it was practicality that brought Michelle into the army fold.

“I was accepted to Notre Dame and needed a way to pay for it. I received a full tuition Army ROTC scholarship that came with an obligation to serve for four years on active duty,” Michelle says. “Because I had grown up around the military, I knew it was an honorable job and it was familiar to me. Needless to say, my dad was very pleased!”

That decision led Michelle to Germany as part of a truck battalion that was responsible for hauling supplies, mail, and equipment throughout the country. She made many lifelong friends during her service, learned many lessons that would stay with her, and enjoyed experiencing the German culture. “Serving my country was a huge honor. I love America and was glad to do my part to serve and protect her,” she says.

As with hundreds of thousands of veterans, she served her country honorably, eventually attaining the rank of captain, and moved on to a civilian life of work and family. But life wasn’t done with twists and turns for Michelle. In 2011, she began experiencing some muscle twitches. She didn’t think much of it at the time, and certainly didn’t suspect anything serious. “The chances of having ALS are miniscule and I never dreamed that would be my diagnosis,” Michelle says. But it was.

“Finding out you have a 100 percent fatal disease with no effective treatment is devastating. Plus, the idea of progressively becoming paralyzed is its own special horror,” Michelle remembers. “My (twin) daughters had just started third grade when I was diagnosed, and I wasn't ready to leave them or my husband behind.” Because of her love for her husband and daughters, Michelle made the decision to go on a ventilator in 2014.

But that was not the last twist in Michelle’s story. Even though she found herself confined to her bed and needed to use eye-gaze technology to communicate (which she used for all her responses here), Michelle was not about to let life pass her by. A lifelong reader, Michelle decided what she really needed to do was start a blog, specifically a book review blog, called “Book Thoughts from Bed,” which she began in April 2016. “I had been home on a ventilator for a couple of years and finally realized I would be around a while and needed something to do. I had been reading a lot (thank God for eye gaze technology and online library services!), and I started the blog to express myself and connect with other readers,” Michelle explains.

To date, she has reviewed over 150 books, both old and new. Michelle avoids books that are to “heavy or depressing,” but covers a variety of topics and styles, from mysteries to romance to non-fiction. And she is always looking for recommendations on what to read next.

While Michelle’s blog is not about her ALS journey, it is one of the many ways she supports the fight against ALS. “I make an annual appeal on my blog for donations to my Walk (to Defeat ALS) team, and my blog followers always come through. They're very generous,” she says. “Additionally, last spring I joined the Amazon affiliate program and donate all commissions from selling books to (The ALS Association).”

By now you’ve probably guessed that there are more twists to Michelle’s story—we haven’t even touched on the two Etsy shops she runs with the help of one of her home health aides—but the constants in her life are her family. Michelle has had the chance to see her twin daughters grow into young women, and her husband Paul continues to be there for her day in, day out. Not every part of a story needs a twist or turn, after all.

Veterans are more likely to be diagnosed with ALS than the general population, regardless of their branch of service or service during peace or wartime. The Justice for ALS Veterans Act, if passed, would ensure families of veterans with ALS are eligible for an increased compensation benefit regardless of how long the veteran has lived with ALS. Click here to ask your Representative and Senators to cosponsor and pass the Justice for ALS Veterans Act.

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