Experts estimate that as many as 30,000 Americans have ALS at any given time.

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Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- In September of 2005 Suzy Shealy lost her oldest son Sergeant Joseph Derrick in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

To help deal with the loss of her son she started painting a series of portraits she called her Iraq Series, the images were created from pictures that were sent home after Joseph's death.

"It helped get rid of the noise, it helped me find a serene place to be and it also gave me a connection to my son," said Shealy.

Since then she has become an accomplished artist, she even presented President George W. Bush two of her Iraq Series prints which are on rotation at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

But last year the Gold Star Mother found out news that once again changed her life and the life of her family.

"It sucked the breathe right out of me," said Elizabeth Shealy Nazionale, Suzy's daughter and now primary caregiver.

Suzy was an active grandmother, wife and artist, she walked 5 miles a day and played tennis, that all changed last year when she found out she had ALS.

"It took almost a year to be diagnosed and I knew there was something major wrong and actually I was relieved to know what it was," said Suzy.

ALS is often called Lou Gehrig's Disease, a progressive degenerative disease that impacts the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

"It is devastating, it is something you never want to hear and for there to be no cure," said Elizabeth.

Even though the outlook is dim and she can't exactly paint like she could before, Suzy remains positive.

Suzy said, "I'm at peace with my diagnosis, I'm not afraid of the future, I'm undergirded by my wonderful family and phenomenal friends and I'm okay."

One of those friends is Betsi Jordan, along with a number of members of the Kappa Delta Sorority's Midlands Alumnae Association the group will be "Steppin' and Sippin' for Suzy" during the Midlands Walk to Defeat ALS.

"It is just a small way that we could payback, we could create interest and knowledge about it, but most importantly support Suzy," said Betsi.

It is that kind of support that family needs right now the most according to Elizabeth.

"Pray for our family and pleas pray for ever family that is dealing with this," said Elizabeth.

Suzy said, "ALS is a horrid disease, I pray that there will be a cure, I certainly would not want any of my family or anyone else in the future to suffer with this disease."

The Midlands Walk to Defeat ALS is a three mile walk that begins at Columbia's Riverfront Park.

The walk begins at 10 A.M. on Saturday and is the ALS Association's biggest annual event.

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