The Kessenich Family ALS Center Receives Center of Excellence Designation

The University of Miami’s Kessenich Family ALS Center continues to receive national recognition for the comprehensive care it provides to patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The center recently received designation as an ALS Association Certified Treatment Center of Excellence. The ALS Association gives the certifications to a few select centers around the country based on the provision of multi-disciplinary patient care, active involvement in ALS research, and a strong relationship with the ALS Association’s local chapter.

“Not only do we provide a comprehensive range of services for our patients and engage in groundbreaking clinical and translational ALS research, but we also ensure that research is well integrated into patient care,” said Michael Benatar, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology, Walter Bradley Chair in ALS Research and Chief of the Neuromuscular Division. “This certification as a treatment center of excellence will give the center’s work in areas of patient care and research greater visibility.”

The new designation, as well as the recent $6.24 million cooperative agreement awarded to Benatar by the National Institutes of Health, also comes on the heels of the ALS ice bucket challenge that catapulted the disease into the international spotlight.

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that attacks the motor nerves, leading to progressive muscle weakness. There is no effective therapy for ALS and the lifespan for those affected is typically only three to five years.

The Kessenich Family ALS Center was established at the University of Miami in 1998 through the generous support of Mark Kessenich, Jr., an investment banker in New York and Palm Beach, who died from ALS at the peak of his career. Kessenich recognized the complex needs of patients with ALS and with the help of his family and friends, he raised the necessary funds to support the establishment of the center.

Patients referred for evaluation for suspected ALS are seen throughout the week. Newly diagnosed patients are seen in the “second visit clinic” to answer questions about the disease, establish an initial plan of care and to discuss research opportunities.

The multi-disciplinary ALS clinic, run by Ashok Verma M.D., professor of neurology, and Ginna Gonzalez ARNP, D.N.P., Nursing Director of the Kessenich Family ALS Center, provides those in the advanced stages of ALS with a broad range of services including physical therapy, occupational therapy, access to a social worker, psychologist, nutritionist, speech pathologist, respiratory therapist, neurologist and nurses.

The center holds an Augmentative and Alternative Communication Clinic twice a month to assist patients with selecting the appropriate communication devices. The Wheelchair Clinic, also held bi-monthly, helps patients with mobility requirements.

In addition to treating ALS patients, UM Miller School of Medicine neurologists and researchers are engaged in the full spectrum of basic, translational and clinical research focused on understanding the cause and biology of the disease, as well as both pre-clinical and clinical drug development programs.

“ALS has flown under the radar for many years but impacted millions of people,” said Benatar. “Patients locally and internationally know that they can come to Kessenich Family ALS Center for a unique and thorough approach to care.”

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