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Pat Dolan: Mapping the future of ALS Care, Cures, and Community

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When Pat Dolan was diagnosed with ALS in July 2016, he knew the life he thought he had planned would be forever changed. Pat was a solutions team lead at Esri, a geographic information system (GIS) company, and spent his 25-year career in GIS creatively using mapping technology to solve real-world problems in the utility industry. He and Mara, his wife of 24 years, enjoyed many of their favorite activities: hiking, traveling and finding the perfect IPA. Surely ALS would now alter their path, but he had no idea where his passion for mapping and data would take him.

Shortly after he was diagnosed, Pat and Mara participated in a Walk to Defeat ALS event hosted by the Golden West Chapter of The ALS Association. He connected with Chapter staff and shared the powerful work of Esri and how they map data to help people visualize it in a geospatial way. He felt strongly that the tools that Esri has provided for many years to organizations around the world could prove beneficial to the ALS community.

“After my diagnosis, I wanted to bring GIS to the ALS battle but wasn’t sure where to start,” says Pat. During a multidisciplinary ALS clinic visit, he and Mara learned how far people were traveling to attend the ALS clinic. He recalled one couple driving 170 miles from Bakersfield to Loma Linda every three months to receive the closest clinic care available, while another woman drove herself 80 miles round trip. “That experience led me to map the ALS clinics to understand access to care and identify the underserved communities.”

Headquartered in Redlands, CA, Esri, Inc. provides a state-of-the-art mapping and analytics systems to a variety of industries all over the world. The Golden West Chapter quickly saw the benefits of using mapping technology to provide resources for people living in California and Hawaii. Pat and several his colleagues embarked on a year-long partnership with the Chapter, with a focus on visually tracking ALS client locations and services, and a goal of offering the ALS community a user-friendly interface for locating nearby clinics, events, support groups and more.

One of these first collaborative ideas included mapping the locations of multidisciplinary ALS clinics locally and around the country. Joining forces with friends and former colleagues at Esri, Pat set out to develop an ALS Clinic Locator, a resource that would enable the ALS community to locate multidisciplinary clinics via city or ZIP code. “I wanted to bring information together by geography to discover patterns and relationships that could improve care, accelerate research, and advocate for the ALS community. There is so much information about ALS, but it hadn’t been organized by geography, which is what I did for 25 years in the utility industry,” says Pat.

Recognizing the importance and usefulness of this tool, the Golden West Chapter began mapping locations of Chapter Support Groups and Community Outreach Events within our service area in 31 California Counties and the entire state of Hawaii. This map has lived on the Chapter’s website for years now, and there are many other mapping projects that were powered by Esri that have supported the Chapter in providing increased services to people living with ALS and their loved ones. These include a geographical study of Chapter Care Manager caseloads, to discover gaps in service, in order to provide better care to those living with ALS. The Chapter also used the tools to better analyze historically underserved regions and to create a plan to increase outreach and access to care services, which is already showing a positive effect. 

Pat’s support of the Inland Empire Walk continued over the years and he created a Walk team called, “The Mappers.” In 2018, Pat Dolan and Esri, Inc. were celebrated as Walk Community Champions for their ongoing philanthropy of time and financial resources in support of the ALS community and the search for effective treatments and cures.

“I’m excited to apply my 25 years of mapping experience to help this community,” shares Pat. “Through maps and analysis, we are maximizing care resources and identifying where care is needed most. I’m thankful that Esri has enabled me to support the ALS community through mapping.” 

Although Pat’s disease progression began to make things more difficult, he was determined to make his dream a reality. “The first challenge was transitioning from using my hands to my eyes to work on my computer,” he said. “It was very frustrating at first because something that I could do in a second with my hands now took 30 seconds with my eyes. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you have 100 clicks to do a task it adds up quickly.” Over time, Pat became more proficient, and while he typically prides himself in doing the technical work himself, he learned to pass off certain tasks to his colleagues who were willing to help to save time and prevent eye exhaustion.

“Trying to have a technical discussion with your eyes can be very challenging at times, especially for those I am communicating with,” said Pat. “They must be patient while I type out my response and not change the topic while I respond.” Fortunately, his colleagues have been understanding and will typically send him questions prior to his meetings so he has plenty of time to prepare. They also attend meetings with him to help explain their work with other organizations.

Pat and his team released the ALS Association Clinic Locator in 2022 and have been working closely with ALS organizations nationwide, to bring attention to this valuable new tool and to find ways to help provide greater access to its capabilities. “Our hope is this new locator tool will offer our community an easier, visual option to search for ALS clinics near them. Instead of scrolling through a long list, someone can use the map to do a search based on their location,” says Maureen Clark, director of business intelligence at The ALS Association. “Finding new ways to make lives easier and ensure access to care for the families we serve will always be a priority for us.”

Later this year, we will release the International ALS Clinic Locator. In partnership with the International Alliance ALS / MND Associations and the ALS Association have develop an application for organizations to add their clinics and the services they provide worldwide. “Our goal is to understand access to care around the world and identify the undeserved communities/countries,” says Pat. 

“Unfortunately, my ALS journey has followed the same path as Lou Gehrig in 1939 – the loss of movement, the ability to eat, speak, and breathe on my own,” says Pat. “Fortunately, technology has allowed me to continue my GIS career, which has given me the opportunity to serve the ALS community.”

To learn more about Pat’s maps, please visit the ALS GeoHub

Our deepest gratitude to Pat and Mara Dolan for allowing us to share their inspiring story with the ALS community. It is thanks to their efforts and those of the dedicated staff at Esri that the Golden West Chapter has been empowered to approach new ways to serve people living with ALS and their loved ones.

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