Across the country, teams of health care professionals specially trained to address the needs of people living with ALS are doing whatever it takes to provide the specialized care and support their patients require. The ALS Association’s Certified Treatment Centers of Excellence and Recognized Treatment Centers provide compassionate multidisciplinary care in a supportive, family-oriented atmosphere, to help not just patients, but their family members and caregivers as well.
A key member of the clinic’s team is a social worker: he or she is responsible for connecting patients and their family members to community resources as well as providing general patient counseling and guidance throughout their ALS journey. They provide critical support to help patients and their caregivers make difficult decisions and proactively make plans to help alleviate some of the stress ALS causes.
“I didn’t know very much about ALS or what to expect when I started working at Essentia Health Clinic in Duluth, Minnesota,” says Sandi Erickson, a licensed social worker who for over 10 years has helped patients improve their physical and mental health. Sandi recalls she had no idea what was in store for her with the very first patient she met.
“The team said I was being baptized by a firehose,” says Sandi. “This family was dealing with several hardships. On top of the stress ALS puts on a family, English was not their first language. They immigrated to the United States from another country and had four young children ages ranging from six to fifteen, too young to understand their young father’s condition. They also had no family around and little to no support system to help.”
It was clear from the beginning this family was going to need a lot of help and Sandi was ready for the challenge. Sandi said the gentleman was accompanied in a wheelchair at his clinic appointment with his wife for what appeared to be her first time to clinic. His prior appointments, he had come alone, still able to walk. Although it was unclear during the visit, it seemed as though the gentleman’s wife had no idea what was happening, other than that something was wrong, and her husband was declining rapidly. Sandi later learned that his young wife, in fact, did not understand ALS or know there is no cure.
Sandi immediately met with the entire family, working to help all of them understand what was happening with his illness and what having ALS meant for their future. She was able to connect them with family they had out of state, along with numerous community resources and a neighbor who was willing to help. Sandi worked daily to try to help and accommodate their every need and wish. Sadly, his condition worsened quickly, and she worked diligently to transition him to hospice to help make his final days as painless as possible.
Sandi says this family’s story and the inevitable reality that this father would leave behind his young children and family affected her deeply. “I realized very quickly, especially for people impacted by ALS, community is so important,” says Sandi. “People don’t know what they don’t know, it’s so important to reach out to others for help and be willing to accept the help once it’s in front of you.”
Special thanks to Sandi Erickson and The ALS Association Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Chapter for allowing us to share Sandi’s inspiring story. To learn more about people doing whatever it takes for people living with ALS, visit our blog HERE.