There is no cure for the horror that is Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but now, hope may be riding to the rescue at Stony Brook University.

The Ride for Life organization is donating $500,000 to Stony Brook’s Christopher Pendergast ALS Center of Excellence. The Simons Challenge Grant will match the generous donation, making the total impact $1 million to help fund clinical research.

“This is absolutely huge,” Patricia Coyle, acting chair of the Department of Neurology at Stony Brook Hospital, said.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, wastes away a person’s nervous system, leaving a conscious human in need of nonstop medical attention. ALS gained public attention when the Yankee’s great first baseman, Lou Gehrig, was diagnosed in 1938.

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Christopher Pendergast was diagnosed with ALS at age 44 and said his life changed in the blink of an eye. “I went from being on top of the world, great family, wonderful teaching career and living the good life, in a moment, to having the world on top of me, pushing me down.”

But he vowed to spend the rest of his life helping others who are victims of this fatal disease. The lack of research made him feel angry, which compelled him to try to help other families from going through what he has gone through with his family.

“You can be part of the problem, or you can choose to be part of the solution,” he said.

Fifteen years ago, he was one of the founders of the Ride for Life organization and was a major force behind the opening of the ALS clinic at Stony Brook. The organization gets its name from an annual event when patients ride their power wheel chairs down highways to raise funds for a cure and create awareness.

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Dr. Coyle promised Pendergast that in five years, there will be original research being evaluated in the ALS center.

“I think clearly he is making a big leap of faith putting a lot of trust in us at Stony Brook and we certainly aren’t going to let him down,” Coyle said.[FP1]

Last year, Ride for Life placed 6,000 pinwheels in the ground to represent the people who die each year of ALS. This year, on June 2, 16 doves will be released to represent the spirit of the 16 people that die everyday from ALS.

“And those doves will soar up to heaven, carrying our hope,” Pendergast said.

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