EXCLUSIVE: Local pastor opens up about ALS battle

Published: May. 22, 2017 at 8:12 PM EDT
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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Every 90 minutes, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, named for the late first baseman and power hitter for the New York Yankees. Gehrig was stricken with the neurodegenerative disease that causes muscular atrophy and forced into retirement at age 36. He died two years later.

In fact, doctors say many people with ALS die within three to five years of being diagnosed. The rapidly progressive illness causes the brain and muscles to stop communicating. It's something Rev. Dr. Charles Goodman, Jr., pastor of Augusta's historic Tabernacle Baptist Church, began noticing in his right hand.

"I started feeling numbness on my right side," says Goodman. "It was really progressing. I thought it was carpel tunnel and even wore a brace. People are amazed at my preaching ability and things like that. But, what they don't know is, I can't use my right hand. I can't write well with it. So, I'm forced to memorize my sermons."

His mind is sharp, as ALS does not affect that part of the body. Doctors say it does lead to respiratory failure, paralysis and, eventually, death. About 50% of ALS patients live at least two years after the diagnosis; 20% live five years or more, and up to 10% survive more than 10 years.

Upon learning of his diagnosis in 2001 at the age of 21, Goodman was given two years to live.

"I'm thinking, 'Man, I only have two years to live.' When you get a diagnosis like that you feel like you have to do something. I thought if I have only two years, if I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die going hard."

It's a go-hard philosophy of intense workouts, proper diet and what he calls a healthy dose of prayer and faith that continues to this day. Experimental drugs, he says, didn't work. He has chosen not to continuing seeing a doctor. He travels extensively and when possible, shares his story to encourage others. Now, 16 years after he was first diagnosed, he says he believes he is a miracle, likening himself to a modern-day Hezekiah, a character in the bible whose life was extended after praying to God.

"I really feel like God gave me renewed purpose. So, if I can help one or two, it was worth it," said Goodman.

This week, the FDA announced a new drug to treat ALS. It's the first medication to be unveiled for the treatment of the disease in 20 years. Rev. Goodman says he doesn't advise anyone to not see a doctor; however, he has chosen to continue on his own path to healing.