Adversity: Diagnosed with ALS in 2005
Advocacy: Became a leading ALS activist
Thomas Ohlson has spent most of his life in service to others. As a former crash-rescue pilot in the US Army and as a diplomat with the US Department of State, Tom served his country with honor. As a loving husband and father of three, he has served his family again and again. However, in 2005, something happened that would forever change the physical ways in which he could serve. Tom developed a weakness in his right hand, which he first thought was simply carpal tunnel syndrome. Tom underwent a series of tests and procedures that would ultimately lead to his diagnosis of ALS. The news was devastating, and so too were the coming developments. In 2008, he took his last steps; and in 2009, he uttered his last words and took his last breath. When his youngest daughter learned that her father was on a ventilator and could no longer speak, she cried for three days. But she also typed him a message on his communications computer: “You can teach me things by putting things on the screen and you will always love me … so that’s all I need to have a good daddy just like you.”
That simple communication from his 6-yr. old daughter proved to be a life-changer for Tom. He realized that there was so much more he could do to serve not only his family, but also society. Even by typing with just two fingers, he could share his experiences and become a public face for ALS. Tom began keeping a journal, which he shared through social media. His candid writings soon amassed a following and both Facebook and MTV picked up on his story. Tom is now turning his journal into a book, so that he can reach a broader audience in order to raise awareness of the disease and get more people involved in working toward a cure. In addition, Tom is now pursuing a PhD in hopes of inspiring others to never let their disabilities slow them down. Tom has never looked back, and through his tireless efforts, he continues to inspire countless others to join him in serving the ALS community.