Looking back, Robert Cotton wonders what might have stacked the deck against him.
Could it have been the hot summer days when he swam as a child in the polluted waters of the Huron River? Could it have been when his family moved to Monterrey, Mexico, and he was exposed to pesticides used to kill termites? Could it have been chemicals in the food he ate?
Cotton, 51, of Ann Arbor may never know.
All he knows is that he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative motor neuron disease more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s stealing his ability to do the things he loves most — being active outdoors running and cycling.
Soon, he knows, ALS will take his life.
“A small percentage of us that have ALS, and it’s very small, like 10 percent, make it past 10 years,” said Cotton, who has already lived two and a half years with the disease. He’s hoping for more time.
Cotton is being treated at the University of Michigan’s Multidisciplinary ALS Clinic, where Dr. Eva Feldman and Dr. Stephen Goutman are trying to better understand exactly what causes ALS as they seek new treatments and potentially a cure for the fatal disease that affects as many as 20,000 people in the United States, according to the ALS Association.