- Associated Press - Saturday, April 29, 2017

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Missouri woman paralyzed by Lou Gehrig’s disease isn’t letting any limitations from the incurable disease keep her from doing book reviews, using only her eyes.

As a married, 50-year-old Kansas City, Missouri, mother of 14-year-old twin girls, Michelle Melland can’t breathe without a ventilator, and she can’t walk, talk or move a finger or toe, The Kansas City Star reports (https://bit.ly/2q6AMoI ).

But the former Army captain whose high jump record still stands at Immaculata High School in Leavenworth, Kansas, is using computerized eye-gaze technology to type on a tablet-like keyboard by just staring at letters.

And that ability to still write using only her eyes has produced 44 reviews she has crafted since last spring, posting each to her blog, bookthoughtsfrombed.com.

“This blog is what happens when a woman who is productive by nature gets confined to a hospital bed,” Melland, who was diagnosed six years ago with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, wrote in the “About” section of her site, which mentions her illness.

“I’m basically paralyzed and spend most of my time in bed,” she added. “Thanks to technology, I’m able to access and control online e-readers, and thanks to Amazon and local libraries, I have limitless numbers of books to choose from. I’m optimistically looking at this phase of life as ‘retirement’ and aren’t I lucky that I get to spend my retirement reading in bed?”

She adds, sarcastically, “Yeah, it’s a stretch…”

Melland has reviewed books old and new, though she won’t critique anything too “heavy or depressing” because of her illness. She’s always been that way, even with movies, said her husband, Paul Melland, who works in information technology at the University of Kansas Hospital.

Sherrie Hanneman, the Mid-America Chapter of the ALS Association’s communications chief, said Melland embodies the fortitude and resilience that often will arise in individuals who, at first devastated by an ALS diagnosis, later find themselves determined to live as best they can, with a sense of purpose with what time they have.

“She is not defined by a disease. She is defining herself and using her own words to define herself,” Hanneman said.

“It’s not easy,” Melland said of her illness, using her gaze to type out words that the computer then reads aloud with a robotic tone. “And I don’t want to downplay that. But it’s important to decide how you’re going to react to this disease and not let it rob you of the joy you can experience during the balance of your life.”

While calling her disease “a death sentence,” Melland said she’s not confined by it.

“I always believed,” she typed, “in controlling what you can - your education, your job performance, the quality of your relationships, your attitude, etc. - and coming to terms with things you can’t control, like a totally random terminal illness.

“I couldn’t change the fact that I had ALS, but I could control how I reacted to that reality.”

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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