SBUMC Dedicates Name For ALS Clinic: Honors Christopher Pendergast, Advocate And 17-Year ALS Survivor

 

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    Former Yankee and Cy Young awardee, David Cone, Presents Official Naming of the Center

    STONY BROOK, N.Y., January 18, 2011 – Hundreds came out to support 17-year amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) survivor and Ride for Life founder, Christopher Pendergast, at a ceremony

    David Cone, former Major League Baseball pitcher and honorary chairman for the Ride for Life Foundation, officially announced the naming of the Christopher Pendergast ALS Center of Excellence with the Pendergast family looking on, from left: Christopher and his son, Buddy, wife Christine, and daughter, Melissa Scali.
    Photo credit:Jeanne Neville

    marking the renaming of Stony Brook University Medical Center’s ALS clinic to the Christopher Pendergast ALS Center of Excellence, an ALS Association Certified Center. The rousing celebration took place on December 16, in the Charles B. Wang Center theatre at Stony Brook University. Pendergast, nationally recognized for his patient advocacy, declared that ALS would one day be beaten and expressed his hopes that new research leads to a cure of the fatal degenerative neuromuscular disease.

    The ceremony included a formal presentation by David Cone, the former New York Yankees perfect game pitcher and honorary chairman of the Ride for Life Foundation, who officially announced the new name of Christopher Pendergast ALS Center of Excellence. A New York State Proclamation was jointly presented by Assemblymen Steve Englebright and Mike Fitzpatrick; and personal congratulations from Senator John J. Flanagan, whose daughter and son were taught by Pendergast at Dickinson Avenue School in East Northport.

    Dorine Gordon, President and CEO, ALS Association, Greater New York Chapter, recognized Pendergast and his family as integral to the mission of the ALS Association in advancing treatment for ALS patients and seeking a cure. She cited Chris as one of the impetuses behind the national ALS registry, which officially started October 19, 2010. Concluding the ceremony, a Pendergast family friend, Mary Timons, performed a beautiful rendition of “Angels Among Us” to a time honored slide show of Pendergast’s life, before and after ALS.

    “This is a wonderful and very special honor. I accept it with much humility and deep appreciation,” said Pendergast, in a written speech on the ALS Center being named for him. Because speaking is difficult for Chris, and he often needs a ventilator to breathe, the speech was delivered verbally with the assistance of his son, Buddy, his daughter, Melissa Scali, and his wife Christine. “What a remarkable chance life has given me. Friends, I know you share the belief that beating ALS is work worth doing,” he expressed, surrounded by his entire family, friends, Stony Brook leadership, physicians and nurses of the ALS treatment team, and elected officials.

    Being the recipient of such a gift is a role reversal for Chris. For the past 17 years, he has been the one giving the gifts to those with ALS. Each May, on behalf of his Ride for Life Foundation and accompanied by other patients and supporters, he makes a power wheelchair ride of more than a hundred miles from

    A post-ceremony group photo includes, from left: Dorine Gordon, President and CEO, ALS Association, Greater New York Chapter; Dr. Patricia Coyle, Co-Director of the Institute for Advanced Neurosciences, and Interim Chair, Department of Neurology at Stony Brook University Medical Center; Elizabeth Hashagen, News 12 anchor, family friend and ceremony emcee; David Cone; Christine Pendergast; Dr. Steven Strongwater, CEO, Stony Brook University Hospital; Senator John J. Flanagan; Dr. Ken Kaushansky, Senior Vice President, Health Sciences, and Dean, School of Medicine; Assemblymen Steve Englebright and Mike Fitzpatrick, and Chris Pendergast.
    Photo credit:Jeanne Neville

    Montauk to Manhattan’s Columbia University. New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig, an ALS sufferer, went to Columbia. Through the Ride, Chris has raised well in excess of $3.5 million for ALS research and patient services.

    “There are the 50 patients from the Ride who have fallen, unable to make it to the finish line,” Pendergast continued. “There are scores of friends, hundreds of supporters and countless well wishers. What I am today is the result of all their efforts. I am an ordinary man, thrust into an unusual situation who received extraordinary help.”

    None of the event participants or attendees would consider Pendergast an “ordinary man.” The ceremony highlighted his many years of amazing advocacy work. Also featured were the emergence and growth of the ALS Center and Chris’ critical role in it.  Clips of television segments and newspaper report illustrated local and national recognition of his efforts and extraordinary journey with a crippling disease.

    Historically, Chris was the major force behind the opening of the ALS clinic at Stony Brook in 2002. It is the only one on Long Island and one of only 34 certified by the ALS Association nationwide.  With Ride for Life proceeds he has donated about $400,000 to the clinic for its wide-ranging services.

    Recognizing the Remarkable

    Representatives from Stony Brook University Medical Center spoke of Pendergast’s incredible journey through ALS and the importance of his advocacy, leadership, and vision – a vision embraced by the institution with the goal of using the research and clinical expertise of an academic medical center to provide complete patient care and in finding a cure, according to Kenneth Kaushansky, MD., Senior Vice President, Health Sciences, and Dean, School of Medicine.

    “We are here today with this remarkable man who has defied the odds, is one of the rare long-term ALS survivors in the world, and one of the few patient spokesmen for the disease,” said Dr. Kaushansky. 

    He pointed out that in addition to the work of the ALS clinical team, research conducted through the Department of Neurobiology, the Center for Molecular Medicine, and the Institute for Advanced Neurosciences, of which the ALS Center falls under, by leaders in the field of Neurosciences will help to uncover the biological problems of diseases like ALS. Such collaborative and interdisciplinary research will improve lives for patients and foster the science that advances new discoveries.

    “Over the past nine years, the Center has developed into a multidisciplinary practice that remains the only ALS treatment center on Long Island,” said Steven Strongwater, M.D., CEO of Stony Brook University Hospital. He attributed much of this development to Pendergast’s advocacy and service. It mirrors what Pendergast envisioned when the hospital was originally approached in 2001 to explain the pressing need for a full-service treatment facility on Long Island for ALS patients and their families.

    Now in 2011, the Center has expanded and treats approximately 20 new patients and 50 follow-up patients annually. A multidisciplinary staff of physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals works as a team for patients. They provide clinical care, respiratory, speech, occupational, and physical therapy, social work services, psychological and nutritional services.

    Citing the phenomenal growth of the ALS Center, Patricia Coyle, M.D., Co-Director of the Institute for Advanced Neurosciences, and Interim Chair, Department of Neurology, congratulated Pendergast on his perseverance and the naming of the Center in his honor. She also acknowledged the Center’s physicians and staff dedicated to treating ALS patients and advancing the research mission.

    “As a result of the Center becoming a certified Center of Excellence in 2009, the ALS Association has acknowledged and facilitated Stony Brook researchers as participants in an independent consortium of clinical and scientific investigators in the Northeast who conduct collaborative ALS research at their affiliated institutions,” said Dr. Coyle. “Stony Brook researchers now have the ability to conduct cutting-edge clinical trials in conjunction with other consortium members.”

    Regarding the future of the Christopher Pendergast ALS Center of Excellence, Pendergast made a point to say he would remain committed to supporting specific ALS research at Stony Brook. He likened his life and journey with ALS as a baseball player: He is up at bat in a tie game, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, a three balls and two-strike count. One pitch left.

    “I will not be caught standing idly and looking as the pitch sails past. I am going to swing. Who knows, I may even hit a home run.”

    With that, applause and a standing ovation broke out in the audience. Like Gehrig himself, a confident and unmatched hitter with the game on the line, Pendergast completed his thought, declaring “The ultimate victory is assured. ALS will be beaten.”

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