Liz Jones, a former teacher at Howard Middle School, died Wednesday morning of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- more commonly referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Jones was 54.
In April, she became what researchers believe to be the first woman in the world to undergo an experimental surgery designed to impede the advancement of ALS and extend the quality of life of those individuals who have it. The procedure involved injecting stem cells into Jones’ spine.
Though Jones herself was likely to get little benefit from the procedure, the information that doctors at Emory University’s ALS Center learned from Jones’ results would be invaluable in refining the procedure for future patients.
In an April 9 story in The Telegraph, Jones -- who lost the ability to speak -- wrote on a computer that she was hopeful that her surgery would benefit others.
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“Life is meaningless without purpose,” she said. “I’ve had several worthy purposes in my life. ... Now, I get to participate in finding a cure for ALS and other debilitating diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, (multiple sclerosis), spinal cord injury, etc. In some ways, I feel as though I’ve been given a gift -- the opportunity to help the next generation never have to hear those words: ‘You have ALS and there is nothing we can do to help you.’ ”
One of Jones’ sisters, Margaret South, said Jones started to decline physically soon after the surgery, but she was glad to have participated. Jones’ health took a dramatic turn for the worse during the last week of August.
“She didn’t do well (with the surgery), but it provides information for the doctors,” South said. “Whatever happens, she knew that it would provide information. That was really important to her. ... She fought until the end.”
Jones was Howard’s Teacher of the Year in 2011 and stayed in the classroom to teach her eighth-grade students after being diagnosed with ALS in 2010, thanks to the help of South and many of the faculty at the school, who took turns to help Jones teach her students.
Jones is survived by her husband, Earl, and daughter, Emily, as well as sisters South and Maureen Jennings, and their mother, Peggy Jennings. South said the family is asking that instead of flowers, people consider making a donations to Emory’s ALS Center.
The family will have a private service. McCullough Funeral Home in Warner Robins has charge of the arrangements.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.