Longtime Hastings doctor battles ALS

Dr. Thomas Tonniges poses for a portrait at the Tribune in

A longtime pediatrician and community leader in Hastings is not letting the devastating effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis stop him from continuing his life's work in service to others.

Dr. Thomas Tonniges, who practiced pediatric medicine in Hastings from 1977 through 1995, was active and well-respected within the community. He served on multiple boards both local and national, was chief of staff at Mary Lanning Memorial Hospital (now Mary Lanning Healthcare), and founded the Children and Adolescent Clinic in 1981.

A renowned speaker on children's issues, he was invited to participate in a forum on health care by President Bill Clinton. One year later, he relocated to Chicago to accept a prestigious position with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

After returning to Nebraska to serve as primary care physician for Boys Town in 2005, he was named medical director of Arbor Health Plan in Omaha in 2012.

Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. Since then, his health has rapidly deteriorated to the point where he can no longer care for himself.

Relying on a power wheelchair, the once vibrant doctor who traveled the world as an advocate for pediatric causes can no longer speak. He communicates by writing messages on a "boogie board," a device that electronically gives his written words a voice.

But with his right arm — his writing arm — beginning to fail, he soon will need to utilize some other means of communicating with family and friends.

In the midst of this rapid deterioration, Tonniges, who is in his mid 60s, filmed a video in early spring to raise awareness and funds for the local ALS Association Keith Worthington Chapter (soon to be Midlands Chapter).

Filmed with family members, the emotionally charged video, titled "ALS Promise Fund," can be seen on YouTube.

Watch the video here.

To read more, see Saturday's Hastings Tribune or the Tribune e-edition.>>

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