Local women create ALS gathering

By Austin Miller

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has gained notoriety with the recent viral trend, the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”, and two local women have created a group for families dealing with the disease.

Deb Geiger, of Murphysboro, and Nikki Morgan, of Herrin, started an ALS social gathering in June for the southern Illinois community to provide support for group members. The group also shares stories with one another about the ailment.

“When a disease like ALS happens, you don’t really know what it is,” said Geiger, whose sister-in-law, Rebecca Clifford, was diagnosed with the illness in 2009. “You feel so alone, so we wanted to bring people together.”


The group consists of 17 members including people with ALS, their families and community members who have lost relatives to the sickness. Members come from different parts of southern Illinois, such as Sesser, Pittsburg, Herrin and Du Quoin.

“We wanted to be able to share things that can help make people’s lives a little bit easier,” Morgan said. She said she took part in the challenge in honor of her father-in-law, Don Morgan, who was diagnosed with ALS in August 2013.

The ALS Association defines the disorder as a “progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.” The deterioration of neurons leads to muscle atrophy and paralysis, then death, according to the association. Its website states ALS, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, affects 30,000 people in the United States.

Gehrig was a first baseman for the New York Yankees, who was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame and retired prematurely because of complications from the condition.

Geiger, a co-founder of the local group, said her sister-in-law experienced symptoms in 2007 when she started tripping more than usual. The disease then spread up her legs and into her spinal cord.

Clifford is now almost completely paralyzed, although she can still breathe, swallow and move her hands.

“It’s a very difficult disease to deal with,” Geiger said. “There is a lot of emotional and physical support needed to deal with it.”


Since the challenge began on July 29, the ALS Association has received more than $79 million in donations, according to the association’s website. The organization raised $2.5 million this time last year.

Social media has affected donations greatly. The hashtag #ALSicebucketchallenge has been posted on Instagram more than 2 million times.

The ALS Association’s website states 1.7 million more people have donated to the cause compared to last year.

The southern Illinois group has met twice and will continue to gather every other month. Their next meeting will be at 6 p.m. Oct. 6 at John A. Logan College and a charity walk is planned for Oct. 11 at John A. Logan, which raised about $5,000 last year.

Austin Miller can be reached at [email protected].