I am Jeremy Van Tress
a U.S. military veteran living with ALS,
living with ALS
My wife gave birth to our sixth child, Asael (Ace), four days after I was diagnosed, which has brought smiles to our faces and helped us through the difficult times.
I am originally from southern California. I am a happy husband and father to six children, including Lucy (14), Willie (13), Hallee (10), Isabella (9), Jameson (5), and Aasel (3). I have always made it a priority to take care of my body and maintain good health. I grew up competing in cross country running and track, playing hockey, basketball, baseball, soccer, dirt bike riding, and wrestling. I played pretty much all sports as a kid. After graduating from high school, I served a two-year church mission in Chile. I then completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Social Work from Brigham Young University-Hawaii and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Shortly after completing my master’s degree, I entered active Army service. I was on active duty for six years, having served all my time at Fort Bragg, NC. Upon commissioning, I became the first-second Lieutenant selected into the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) under a newly organized junior officer development program. After JSOC, I served 2 ½ years with the 82nd Airborne Division. I completed a tour in Afghanistan from 2013-2014, and shortly after that, I went onto US Army Reserve status to pursue medical school. During my deployment to Afghanistan, I began having slight issues swallowing and controlling my saliva. About six months after returning from Afghanistan, I began experiencing weakness in my hands and having difficulty opening jars and bottle caps. I figured these issues were temporary and due to the dust and chronic fatigue, so I did not seek medical treatment. In the summer and early fall of 2016, I began to experience problems “toeing off” when I would run and had a series of experiences that I saw as red flags for my health. In July 2016, I rolled my ankle and fell while running on a flat asphalt trail, which was uncharacteristic of me. Then, about four weeks later, I became abnormally crampy and fatigued after running for a ½ hour at high altitude. Altitude had never bothered me previously. At this point, the weakness was persistent and continued to get worse. In October 2016, I started to work a second job standing on my feet a lot and was not getting much sleep, which seemed to exacerbate my weakness and fatigue to the point I developed a painless limp. I sought help from my primary care provider who referred me to a neurologist. The neurologist and his father, also a seasoned neurologist, completed a history and two hour-long clinical examination and explained that they thought I had a neuromuscular disease. Over the next five months, they ordered MRIs on my brain and spinal cord and ordered many blood tests to rule out other possible health problems. They advised me to visit with a neuromuscular specialist. I was examined by a specialist at the University of Chicago who said he thought I had ALS, but needed more tests to be sure. I was also examined by the Indianapolis VA ALS specialist, who concurred that it was probably ALS. After more blood tests, a pulmonary function test, and an electromyography test at the Indianapolis VA ALS clinic, I was diagnosed with ALS on February 16, 2017. I was told that it was fatal and the disease and that I will eventually be a quadriplegic and lose virtually all voluntary muscle movement. My wife gave birth to our sixth child, Asael (Ace), four days after I was diagnosed, which has brought smiles to our faces and helped us through the difficult times. Since being diagnosed, I was medically retired from the Army, and I started and finished a doctor of philosophy degree. During my doctoral coursework, I was honored to be selected as a 2019 Pat Tillman Scholar. I have also started a nonprofit organization, Smile Inside, where I provide social work services to people with ALS online. I have come to understand that hope and meaningful life experiences can still be enjoyed even when enduring devastating conditions like Lou Gehrig’s disease. My family and I have embraced our new normal and look forward to living each day at a time.