“Cake Boss” Mama Mary Valastro Diagnosed With ALS

“Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro is known for his exuberance, especially when talking about baked goods.

But today Valastro’s tone was much more somber as he announced that his mother, Mary Valastro, 64, has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Buddy revealed to People magazine:

I can confirm that my mother Mary – the heartbeat of the Valastro family and Mama to all of Carlo’s Bakery – has been diagnosed with ALS.  She is tackling it with the strength and determination she always shows, and the entire family is in this together, fighting for her. We’d like to thank all of our fans for the love and prayers – it means a great deal to all of us.

“Mama” (as she is known to fans of the show) kept the family bakery, Carlo’s Bakery, going after her husband died in 1994. Although she retired in 2010, she still makes appearances on the program.

NBC is reporting that the finale of the current season of Cake Boss, airing July 23, “will focus on Mary’s illness and her family’s reaction to it.”

What is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)?

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a debilitating neurological disease.07.04.ALS1

In ALS, the nerve cells that control muscles (“motor neurons”) are damaged. Muscle cells depend on the stimulation from nerves to function, and without this stimulation, muscle cells weaken or die.

This leads to the classic symptom of progressive muscle weakness.

ALS occurs most frequently in adults over 40.

Symptoms are usually noticed first in the arms and hands, legs, or swallowing muscles. Affected individuals lose strength and the ability to move their arms, legs, and body.

Other symptoms include spasticity, muscle cramps, and increased problems with swallowing and forming words. Speech can become slurred or nasal.

When muscles of the diaphragm and chest wall fail to function properly, individuals lose the ability to breathe without mechanical support.

Most patients die within 3 to 5 years from the onset of symptoms.

Although the disease does not usually impair a person’s mind or personality, several recent studies suggest that some people with ALS may have alterations in cognitive functions such as problems with decision-making and memory.

It is currently unknown what causes Amyotrophic Lateral Scherosis.

Organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke support a broad range of research aimed at discovering the cause(s) of neuromuscular diseases such as ALS, finding better treatments, and, ultimately, preventing and curing this disorders.

Various animal models (animals that have been designed to mimic the disease in humans) are being used to study disease pathology and identify chemical and molecular processes involved in cellular degeneration.  ALS (and other muscle diseases such as spinal muscular atrophy)  may eventually be treated or cured by research involving new drugs, growth factors and stem cell therapy.

Valastro photo credit: George Lange / TLC

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Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.


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