On Friday, February 5, at its sixth annual Heroes Luncheon, The ALS Association and its 39 chapters honored four extraordinary people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) who have made a difference in the ALS community.

Nanci Ryder and Renee Zellweger of Team Nanci at The ALS Association Golden West Chapter's Los Angeles Walk to Defeat ALS.
Nanci Ryder and Renee Zellweger of Team Nanci at The ALS Association Golden West Chapter's Los Angeles Walk to Defeat ALS.

The Association was honored to be joined by Academy Award-winning actress, Renee Zellweger, who presented one of the awards to her friend and former publicist, Nanci Ryder, who is bravely battling the disease.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Eventually, people with ALS lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement, which often leads to total paralysis and death within two to five years of diagnosis. For unknown reasons, veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS as the general population. There is no cure, and only one drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) modestly extends survival.

The Heroes Luncheon is the highpoint of The Association’s annual Leadership Conference, where the organization’s Trustees, members of the Board of Representatives and chapter and national staff convene to develop and refine strategies to most effectively fight ALS and achieve the objectives of finding treatments and improving the quality of life for people and families living with this dreadful disease.

This year’s honorees included:
• Advisory Trustee and trailblazing ALS research, care services and public policy leader, Jim Barber;
• Father of three, husband, businessman and ALS advocate, Ted Harada;
• Conscientious family man, aircraft worker and ALS Research Ambassador, Richard Isaacs; and
• Top Hollywood publicist and public awareness champion, Nanci Ryder, who was joined by her friend, Academy Award-winning actress, Renée Zellweger.

“I am inspired by each of these individuals. Jim, Ted, Richard and Nanci have all demonstrated the strength and courage of people who are actively fighting ALS, not with just words but with action,” said ALS Association President and CEO Barbara Newhouse. “They have successfully taken the battle against ALS to the media, the state legislature and the entire country. The entire ALS community is grateful for their efforts to drive the search for new treatments and a cure for the disease.”

More about the honorees:
Jim Barber — A former University of California Santa Barbara football player and Army Captain in Vietnam, Jim Barber had an impressive 30-year career as an attorney prior to his ALS diagnosis. Barber then turned his attention toward the California legislature and was successful in advocating for the passage of two important bills that benefited the fight against ALS. The ALS Standard of Care Bill acknowledged The ALS Association’s Certified Treatment Centers of Excellence® as the gold standard for ALS Care, and the California Tax Check-off Bill gave taxpayers the option to donate all or part of their state income tax refund to ALS research and raised more than $600,000. He worked tirelessly to advocate of ALS research funding beyond the state legislature and offered key testimony to help secure a pivotal $18 million grant for ALS research from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. In addition, Barber’s efforts led to the creation of the California ALS Research Network, which brings together ALS scientists, clinicians, biotech companies, government representatives and ALS organizations to collaborate with the goal of developing effective treatments and, ultimately, finding a cure for ALS.

Ted Harada — Working for 18 years in management for both FedEx and DHL, Ted Harada was diagnosed with ALS. Soon afterwards, he was given the opportunity to be one of the first participants in the Neuralstem trial at Emory University. An enthusiastic ALS advocate, Harada has spoken about ALS at various conferences around the country. He has also served as a member of The ALS Association Georgia Chapter board, and in 2014, he joined The Association’s National Board of Trustees.

Richard Isaacs — Upon receiving a diagnosis of ALS, Richard Isaacs immediately began making financial arrangements to ensure his family’s security. Having accomplished this, he turned his attention toward identifying what he could to do support the ALS community in the fight against this disease. Isaacs inspired his Walk to Defeat ALS team to become a top fundraiser. Recently, he was trained as an ALS Research Ambassador, where he learned about the exciting new advances in ALS research. Now his purpose is to spread the word and encourage others to participate in activities to find treatments leading toward a cure for ALS.

Nanci Ryder — In August 2014, as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was creating unprecedented awareness and support for the ALS community, Nanci Ryder, co-founder of BWR Public Relations in Los Angeles and New York, was diagnosed with ALS. With the support of her clients and good friends, including Courteney Cox, Emmy Rossum, and Academy Award-winners Reese Witherspoon and Renee Zellweger, she gathered an impressive group of supporters who captured the attention of both local and national media. With her extensive connections in media and the entertainment industry, Nanci is a champion for raising public awareness about ALS, advancing ALS research and multidisciplinary care. With almost 250 members, “Team Nanci” has raised more than $265,000 for The ALS Association Golden West Chapter’s Los Angeles Walk to Defeat ALS.

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