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Former Cat Talbott Todd Faces Another Opponent: Lou Gehrig Disease



By Laura Dawahare

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Everyday, approximately 15 people learn they have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. ALS is a progressive neurological disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, eventually stealing from its victims the ability to walk, dress, write, speak, swallow and breathe. Most ALS patients die within five years of diagnosis, and currently, there is no cure.

ALS has afflicted poets, athletes, scientists and politicians, including physicist Stephen Hawking, NFL football player Steve Gleason, and of course major league baseball hall of famer Lou Gehrig, who gave ALS its second name. Kentuckians recently learned of the death of one of its notable residents, actor/playwright Sam Shepard, who also suffered from Lou Gehrig's Disease.

But tens of thousands of people are living with ALS, requiring a dizzying array of treatments and services to help them stay mobile and independent. The ALS Association, headquartered in Washington D.C., was formed in part to provide people with ALS and their families the resources to live fuller lives.

One such family has a name perhaps as recognizable as Gehrig's – at least in Kentucky. Talbott Todd (pictured) had a memorable football career as University of Kentucky Wildcat in the mid-1960s, playing multiple positions for Coach Charlie Bradshaw. Todd, nicknamed "the Richmond Rocket" during his high school days, is perhaps most famous for his 1964 game-clinching fumble recovery that ended top-ranked Ole Miss’s 22-game regular-season road game winning streak. His tenacity on the field was acknowledged last year when UK named the alley between the football and Nutter Field House "Talbott Todd Way," and current Wildcat players use that path to enter Kroger Field at every home game, honoring the man who represented UK admirably long before they were born.


That same tenacity has served him well as he and his family deal with his ALS, diagnosed in 2015.

"Everything about Talbott was happy, healthy and normal, but I noticed that every once in a while, his speech was slurred," said Marilyn, Todd's wife of 52 years. "The first doctor thought it was medicine side effects, a second doctor conducted every kind of test but ALS was not in our thoughts at all."

After his diagnosis, Talbott and Marilyn made an appointment with Dr. Ed Kasarskis, director of UK HealthCare's ALS Clinic at the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute. They felt a connection the moment he walked through the door – the result, Marilyn says, of his easy personality, patient listening and clear explanations.

"He acknowledged right away that this diagnosis was something no one wants to hear, but we weren't entirely powerless in the situation," Marilyn said. "Everything about him said, 'This is not just about being sick.' "

Research has shown that multidisciplinary care, or the practice of having physicians and other health care professionals collaborate to provide the most comprehensive treatment plan for patien