Patient Story: Star Trek Star’s ALS Journey

Kenneth Mitchell is an actor who has worked on the “Star Trek” franchise since 2017. He’s played the Klingon Kol, the scientist Aurellio, Tenavik and Kol-Sha, alongside two other Klingons. His Star Trek work doesn’t end there; he voices a number of characters in the animated show “Star Trek: Lower Decks.” Not only is Mitchell a talented actor, but he is also an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patient after receiving his diagnosis in 2018.

Kenneth’s Story

Mitchell’s disease has progressed quickly since his diagnosis, but he has still been able to work on Star Trek. In fact, the character Aurellio was written specifically for Mitchell, with a backstory crafted to explain a wheelchair. He has continued with his voice work as well.

To update fans on his condition, he attended at a panel at the official Star Trek convention, which was held in Las Vegas. He was joined by his son, Kallum, and a member of his Star Trek family, Mary Chieffo.

While Mitchell was unable to speak due to the progression of his ALS, he communicated through pre-recorded comments that were spoken by a computer, plenty of which were wise-cracks and jokes. He also touched upon his ALS journey, speaking about quick disease progression.

Lastly, Mitchell confirmed his appearance in the fourth season of the show. He didn’t let out too much information, simply stating that his presence will be “very unique.”

About ALS

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive, neurological disease in which nerve cells in the brain stem, brain, and spinal cord deteriorate. Due to this deterioration, muscles weaken, and people lose control of them along with their voluntary movement. In the late stages of ALS, the muscles necessary for breathing weaken, resulting in death.

There are two forms of this disease: sporadic and familial. The former is the most common, with 90-95% of cases falling into this category. In the familial form of the disease, it is known that a mutated gene is inherited from parents, but it is still not fully understood and only accounts for 5-10% of cases. Otherwise, the cause of ALS is unknown. Researchers believe that there is a connection between frontotemporal dementia and ALS. Another theory is that exposure to certain substances or toxins leads to the development of ALS.

Symptoms of ALS vary between individuals. They also worsen as the disease progresses. Symptoms begin with difficulty with small movements and everyday things like walking. At the onset of the disease, people may trip and feel weakness in their arms, hands, and legs. As it progresses, people experience difficulties with speaking and swallowing, slowed and slurred speech, twitches and cramps in the muscles, and difficulty holding good posture. In the later stages, people will be unable to move their muscles gradually. This inability affects movements like blinking. While people with ALS experience loss of muscle function, they do not lose any of their cognitive abilities.

You can read more about Mitchell’s story here.

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