My ALS story: John Constans
After a prestigious career as a Naval aviator, it was on a vacation in Hawaii that John Constans noticed that something wasn’t right.
“I noticed shortness of breath while snorkeling on vacation in Hawaii, followed by slurring of my speech and weakness in my right arm,” John says.
After a series of MRIs, nerve shock tests and breathing tests, John’s primary care physician diagnosed him with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. A second opinion from another physician confirmed the diagnosis.
John’s military career dates back to 1967, when he was commissioned via the Navy ROTC program and served six years on active duty and 15 years in the Reserves. His prestigious military career included flying a number of aircraft, having flown the C-1A servicing carriers on Yankee Station in North Vietnam in 1969, and serving on the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 recovery teams in addition to a 30-year airline career. John retired as a Commander in 1988.
After receiving the ALS diagnosis, John starting going to an ALS clinic run by UC San Diego, which directed him to the local chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “When the folks at Paralyzed Veterans heard ALS, they put me on a fast track for benefits including medical and compensation,” John says. “Paralyzed Veterans' assistance in wading through all the VA’s paperwork was extremely helpful.”
John says he had a positive attitude towards confronting ALS shortly after his diagnosis, largely because he could perform normal functions and felt mostly himself for nearly a year. But over the past six months, the disease has spread to much of John’s body, necessitating a breathing device, a walker and a feeding tube.
But the challenges have not waivered John’s spirit. He relies on his wife and daughters, as well as a medical team at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, Calif. and the ALS clinic at UC Urvine.
“Attitude is a big factor, and I try to keep a positive one, along with a sense of humor,” John says. “Frustration is another big factor, since my brain commands certain functions and my hands, arms or legs are unable to comply.”
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.