Newswise — Few words can be as surprising and heartbreaking as when a doctor tells a patient, “I wish I could tell you that you have cancer, because at least we could do something about that.”

“That was pretty heavy,” said Michael Givens, 55, recalling being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) just over a year ago at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.

ALS is a disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It has no known cause or cure. As it progresses, patients experience a loss of muscle function and the escalating difficulties that come as a result. As patients lose use of their arms and legs, and struggle with breathing and the ability to swallow food, it becomes extremely difficult for them to visit various physicians and specialists for treatment.

Fortunately, Givens, an El Paso resident, and his family discovered the services available at the ALS multidisciplinary clinics offered monthly by Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso in collaboration with the Texas chapter of the ALS Association. The clinics, now marking their first year of service to the El Paso community, are offered every second Wednesday of the month at the main TTP El Paso location (4801 Alberta Ave.).

Patient Michael Givens receives comprehensive care at the ALS multidisciplinary clinics operated by Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso.

The clinics allow patients to see a physician and — on the same day, in one location — receive occupational, physical, speech and respiratory therapy, as well as social services.

Givens and his wife, Pat Givens, say the clinics were established in El Paso at just the right time, helping make life easier for Michael Givens and many other ALS patients.

“This is a blessing, because I can see, I think, seven experts all at one time, which means I don’t pay seven times. It means I don’t have to make seven appointments,” Michael Givens said.

It also meant having to take lots of time off work for doctors’ appointments before he found out about the ALS clinics. Givens, a middle school assistant principal, went on disability in December 2018.

Darine Kassar, M.D., assistant professor of neurology at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, said El Paso needed an ALS clinic because many patients suffering from the disease would have to go to Albuquerque or San Antonio for multidisciplinary care. Those many hours of travel were difficult for patients in fragile health, she said.

“The ALS multidisciplinary clinic is a great support system to the ALS community in El Paso, and this is also reflected in the feedback gathered from patients and their families,” Dr. Kassar said.

“It’s been really helpful,” Pat Givens said about having the ALS clinics as a resource. “Not having to explain to everybody (what ALS is) has been very, very helpful. It’s good to feel not alone. That they know what we’re up against. It’s great support.”

The TTP of El Paso ALS clinics currently serve 16 patients.

About 5,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed each year with ALS, and an estimated 20,000 Americans may be living with the disease at any given time, according to the ALS Association.

As the ALS clinics move into their second year of existence, Dr. Kassar hopes to expand offerings for patients, including adding a dietician to the roster, she said.

“The challenge is to get funding for that service,” she said.


The ALS multidisciplinary clinics are offered at 1 p.m. every second Wednesday of the month at Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso, 4801 Alberta Ave.

For more information, contact: 915-215-5900

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