New Hope for ALS Patients

By: Elizabeth Donatelli
By: Elizabeth Donatelli

March 2, 2005

Imagine being unable to move, speak, or tell your family I love you. It is a reality for some, but technology is changing this.

"I don't dwell on what I can't do, rather, how to achieve the task ahead," said Steve Nichols.

And that's the model he has lived by since being diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrigs Disease. Over the past decade he has lost his ability to walk, eat, and eventually talk, but it hasn't affected his sense of humor.

"Armed with this thing I can do anything," Nichols says. "I chase women."

'This thing' he refers to is the Eye-Gaze Response Inferface Computer Aid, known as ERICA. This technology actually links eye movements with a virtual keyboard.

Inside the camera there is an infra-red light, which is used to create a reflection on the eye that is used to track its movements.

"If you were to look directly back at the camera the glint would be at the center of the pupil. If you look above the camera it's below the pupil," explained Eye Response Technologies Chief Technology Officer Chris Lankford, PH.D.

"So to actually fine tune and determine precisely where someone is looking you have a calibration procedure where you look at a sequence of four points on the screen...after you do that you have this control of the computer with your eye," Lankford said.

"Communication is key to each of us and being able to do that has helped Steve to turn the corner and say 'I will not give up the fight'," said his wife Helen. "No matter what it means I want to live."

Steve now talks to his wife, send emails, checks out the latest sports scores, and even designs websites.

"We beat ALS. No matter what, I know he beat it. He took what he was given and he learned to deal with it and maintained a happy life," Helene said.

Locally, the Blue Ridge ALS Support Group meets the first Wednesday of the month at 7pm at the Laurals of Charlottesville. To get more information you can call 1-866-FITE-ALS or log onto their website at

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