Jim Morris is battling ALS with the same drive and determination that he's used in his 30-year plastics career.
Morris, chief operating officer of packaging firm Heritage Bag Co. in Roanoke, Texas, was diagnosed in December with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig's disease — is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The causes of ALS are unknown and, to date, no cure has been found.
Morris hasn't let ALS slow him down. Since being diagnosed, he's traveled from his home in Texas to Massachusetts, Israel and Austria to be part of studies and treatments that are seeking a cure.
Morris also has had a full schedule of non-ALS travel — including a ski trip to Colorado, a hog-hunting trip to Tennessee, trips to Paris and London and many business trips including a trip to NPE trade show in Orlando, Fla., earlier this year. His wife Kim has been by his side as he's learned to live with ALS.
“I'm trying to get up every day and go to work and live life as normally as I can, even if there are some things I can't do anymore,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I've been spending a lot of time with family and friends.”
In an effort to share his experiences, Morris also has started a blog called Jim's ALS Journey. On the blog, he details his medical experiences and his continued active lifestyle.
In August, Morris posted a video of himself participating in the second ALS Ice Bucket Challenge fundraiser. On his blog, he pointed out how ironic it was that he likely had ALS last year when he watched many videos of people participating in the fundraiser.
Morris has been in plastics for 30 years, starting in 1985 with the resins business of Fina Oil & Chemical Co. in Dallas. After 15 years with Fina, Morris worked in resin consulting and sales before joining Heritage in 2011.
Currently, Morris is about to visit Houston Methodist Hospital, which he said has “an impressive ALS practice.”
“I'm continuing to go to new doctors,” Morris added. Houston Methodist “has a lot of good stuff coming up — some good clinical trials.”
At the ALS Therapy Development Institute in Cambridge, Mass., Morris is part of a precision medicine study that he said “is all the buzz in cancer research.” The study “focuses on finding a drug that helps a specific individual,” he explained. He's also involved in a speech study at the University of Texas at Dallas Callier Center for Communication Disorders, where researchers are developing new ways for people with ALS to communicate.
Earlier this summer at a clinic in Israel, Morris had his bone marrow aspirated and the cells cultured into stem cells. While in Israel, Morris and his wife visited several sites in the Holy Land. Three months later, the cells were placed back into his spinal cord in late summer at a clinic in Austria.
“A lot of people with ALS don't have the resources to do what I've been able to do,” Morris said. “I'm lucky to work for a boss in Carl Allen who's supported me. He stepped up in a big way.”
“I know that a lot of people can't even afford a wheelchair, so I'm very blessed to have been able to have these experiences.”
Morris is encouraging people to support ALS research by donating to organizations such as the ALS Association, the ALS Therapy Development Institute or the ALS branch of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Overall, Morris is facing a challenging situation with plenty of optimism.
‘”I still laugh a lot,” he said. “I haven't lost my sense of humor — and I'm not going to.”