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Minnesota Senator David Tomassoni diagnosed with ALS

A veteran Iron Range lawmaker and former hockey player tells constituents he'll keep working while dealing with the degenerative disease.
Credit: KARE
Minnesota Senator David Tomassoni of Chisholm

ST PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm informed his constituents he's been living with a diagnosis of ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis during the 2021 legislative sessions.

In a letter published in several Iron Range newspapers, Sen. Tomassoni pledged to continue working hard for them and spoke of people who have survived for many years while living with ALS.

"There is no sugar coating it—this is a tough disease, and I will feel the effects of it in my speech, my movement, and my life," Tomassoni wrote.

"Initially, I decided to not let anyone know about it but dealing with it upfront and becoming an advocate seems to be the right direction to go. I may not be on the golf course as often as I had been in the past, but I fully plan to stay active."

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka issued this statement:

"Senator David Tomassoni is one of the most beloved members of the Senate and it is nothing short of a shock to learn of his ALS diagnosis. I ask everyone to keep David and Charlotte, and their family, in your prayers. I offer my encouragement to David and his family, and just to know today the whole Senate is fighting alongside you."

Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent also wished him well:

"Senator David Tomassoni has long been a valued friend of mine and I am saddened by the news of his recent ALS diagnosis. I have admired his deep commitment to public service over the years and his desire to improve the lives of the people of Minnesota. It is no surprise to me that he plans to use his time and platform to be an advocate for ALS research and continue serving his constituents in a job that he loves. I send heartfelt good wishes to him, and his family, as they begin to navigate this new road ahead."

Tomassoni has spent 29 years in the legislature. He has always caucused with the DFL in the House and Senate, until the 2021 Session when he became an independent along with fellow Iron Range Senator Tom Baak.

The Chisholm native played professional hockey in Italy for 16 years and was on the 1984 Italian Olympic hockey team.  In 2005 he choked on a hamburger at a restaurant in Coates, Minnesota. Fellow DFL Senator Jim Metzen performed the Heimlich maneuver to save Tomassoni.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, once known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

According to the ALS Association the disease will progressively deprive people of the ability to walk, talk, dress, speak, swallow and breathe. But the time frame varies quite a bit.

"While the average survival time is three years, about 20 percent of people with ALS live five years, 10 percent will survive 10 years and 5 percent will live 20 years or longer," the ALS Association states.

Text of Tomassoni's letter

Dear Iron Rangers—My Friends:

I have had the honor to represent you in the Minnesota State House of Representatives and now as your State Senator for 29 years. I am humbled by the trust you have placed in me, and I have worked to the best of my abilities to represent you with passion, enthusiasm, and common sense in our work to make the Iron Range a great place to live and raise families.

During this time, I have seen people struggle with loss of jobs, frustrations with the government, financial difficulties, and mental and physical health issues. When folks with issues contact me, I have tried to make government work for them, address their issues and try to improve the situation. Everyone struggles eventually. It is the nature of community to reach out and support them. I have tried to do this in my role as your senator and neighbor.

That’s why I have fought for more resources for children’s mental health, for research into diseases, to make our water cleaner, for affordable health care for all, and support for our veterans suffering from the effects of their service. All noble causes. All the right things to do. When you called, I tried to be there.

Most recently, I have been diagnosed with ALS—Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis—commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the famous baseball player. There is no sugar coating it—this is a tough disease, and I will feel the effects of it in my speech, my movement, and my life. Initially, I decided to not let anyone know about it but dealing with it upfront and becoming an advocate seems to be the right direction to go…I may not be on the golf course as often as I had been in the past but I fully plan to stay active.

I want you to know that I am a person living and working with ALS. I have had it for a while now as I worked all through the entire legislative session feeling its effects. I intend to look at each day as the best day of the rest of our lives and I’m going to live with this disease. Further, I am going to continue representing you to the best of my abilities like I have always tried to do in elected office.

Many have lived and successfully contributed back to the community with ALS. For example, Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist, lived for 50 years after he was diagnosed. Mao Zedong lived till 82 with ALS. And some of our friends and neighbors are courageously battling this disease or other tough diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s, addiction, and mental health problems every day. I give you my word that my brain and my body will continue to represent you with the same passion and vigor I’ve tried to give in the past. I have been fortunate and blessed in my life, my career, in sports, and with friends and a great family. This is the next challenge.

I truly appreciate all the support I have had from my constituents over these past years and I look forward to working for you in the future…I’m anticipating that some of you may want to contact me so please don’t get upset if I don’t respond. Just know that your words will be held close to my heart.