Peacock Feather “Eye”

Depression and anxiety and even hopelessness are not uncommon in people with chronic, life-altering, even terminal illnesses. Certainly, it would be reasonable to believe that depression in response to a neurological illness like MS (multiple sclerosis) or ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) would be a typical response.

Yet, a friend of ours who had been diagnosed with MS and had then sunk into a debilitating depression, called us a while back to share good news—she was no longer depressed.

“A cure of some type?”we wondered.

Not really. She had just read an article about a man who’d been living with ALS for several years, and despite his profound health issues, he has touched the lives of not only our friend, but thousands of people around the world. His name is Dr. Rachamim Melamed-Cohen (he holds a PhD in special education) and he lives with the debilitating symptoms of ALS.

The medical encyclopedia says:

In ALS, nerve cells (neurons) waste away or die, and can no longer send messages to muscles. This eventually leads to muscle weakening, twitching, and an inability to move the arms, legs, and body. The condition slowly gets worse. When the muscles in the chest area stop working, it becomes hard or impossible to breathe on one’s own.

Persons with ALS have a loss of muscle strength and coordination that eventually gets worse and makes it impossible to do routine tasks such as going up steps, getting out of a chair, or swallowing.

Breathing or swallowing muscles may be the first muscles affected. As the disease gets worse, more muscle groups develop problems.

ALS eventually causes complete paralysis. Dr. Melamed-Cohen was diagnosed with ALS over a decade ago. At the time, he was told he would have only three years to live. A rational response, at least one most people would believe to be rational, would have been to view ALS as a death-sentence, and certainly the end of achievement. He would have been forgiven for sinking into depression, even despair.

Instead, Dr. Melamed-Cohen responded by increasing his creative productivity, making profound spiritual efforts and strengthening loving relationships with family, friends and strangers around the world.

Since his diagnosis, Dr. Melamed-Cohen has written seven books (including a book of poetry) using specially designed computer software controlled by eye-movement. He’s also written lyrics which have been set to music, and up until his speech became too difficult to understand, he lectured to students (albeit in his living room and not in a classroom).

Some of his paintings were also created with the special technology he uses to write. Because of the centrality of his vision to his continued creativity, he has dedicated his artwork to the “eye” and the way in which the eye is discussed in the Bible.

He spends a lot of time with his family, too. In an interview posted on ALS Forums, Melamed-Cohen says: “Before [his diagnosis], I didn’t believe that I have such inner strength. I learned that every human being has sparks that he can transform into a burning flame.”

At one point, when his breathing finally stopped, his wife made the split-second decision to keep him alive by respirator. When he came to, Rahamim wasn’t sure that being on a respirator was a good thing. But after some time coming to terms with his illness and his situation he said, “If they had let me die, I would have missed the best and most important years of my life.”