In August 2011, Doug McConnell of Barrington, Illinois, expects to be the 48th person over age 50 to successfully swim across the English Channel. He will be swimming more than 21 miles in memory of his father, David, who passed away from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). McConnell, 53, who is a recipient of an artificial cervical disc developed by Medtronic, is using this endurance challenge to educate the public about ALS and raise funds for scientific research programs. Funds will be matched up to $50,000 by Medtronic. Medtronic, which has worked in the field of neuromodulation with therapies including deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's disease and neurostimulation for chronic pain management, also conducts research that may further the understanding of other neurological disorders like ALS.
McConnell’s father was diagnosed with ALS in 1994 after having lost strength in his arms nearly two years earlier. Unlike most people with ALS who live between two and five years after the onset of symptoms, David McConnell lived with the disease for 14 years.
In late 2009, Doug’s own health was threatened when he developed a severely herniated disc between two cervical vertebrae, resulting in the loss of all use of his left arm. After physical therapy and other unsuccessful treatments, Doug underwent a cervical disc replacement procedure with the Medtronic Prestige® Cervical Disc system. An alternative to spinal fusion surgery, the device is designed to maintain motion at the treated vertebral segment. The surgery was successful and Doug was back in the pool six weeks later and slowly built back his endurance. Today, Doug has regained strength in his arm and the ability to move his neck to breathe while swimming, and swims without pain.
“Medtronic is extremely proud that Doug benefits from one of our technologies and we hope that our partnership in helping Doug raise ALS research funding will result in increased understanding of this devastating disease,” said Pat Wilson, marketing vice president of Medtronic Spinal.
One hundred percent of the funds raised by McConnell, in addition to the Medtronic match, will support research at the Les Turner ALS Research Laboratory at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
A lifelong swimmer, McConnell was a decorated collegiate swimmer at the University of Illinois, where he was ranked in the top 25 in the world several times, has completed countless open water swims, and will be participating in training swims around the country leading up to the Channel swim.