Ex-Vikings Star Orlando Thomas Dies of ALS

Orlando Thomas

Orlando Thomas

Orlando Thomas, the former Minnesota Vikings star defensive back, has died after a seven-year fight with ALS. He was 42, the same year as his number.

In 2007, six years after retiring, Thomas revealed that he had been diagnosed with the disease. Symptoms had begun appearing three years prior. A man who once led the NFL in interceptions was suffering from inexplicable fatigue and twitching.

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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is an especially insidious disease because, while the mind is conscious of what's going on, the body loses control. You literally watch as your muscle movement slips away. By the end, Thomas had shrunk from a 225-pound beast to a 70-pound frame, says his agent, Mark Bartelstein.

"That disease just rips everything from you," Bartelstein says, "but as he was fighting, there was never a sense of self pity. It was never about him. He always wanted to know how you're doing. I was just amazed."

Thomas eventually lost the ability to speak, and, according to Bartelstein, communicated by blinking. Thomas's wife would run through the alphabet and he closed his eyelids on the letter he was looking for. Over time he constructed full sentences -- a painstaking process like the one seen in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."

Down in Crowley, Louisiana, where he spent the last of his days, Thomas relied on a feeding tube and ventilator to stay alive.

In a statement, the Vikings said Thomas "represented the franchise and the state of Minnesota with the utmost dignity and class." It was a nice gesture, especially after reporting in 2009 that Thomas was dead. He still had five more years of fight left in him.

Jake Reed, a former Vikings wide receiver, had this to say:
-- Jake Reed (@JakeReed86) November 10, 2014
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