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What Is ALS? What Killed "Star Trek" & "Captain Marvel" Star Kenneth Mitchell At 49?

The Canadian actor Kenneth Mitchell had been battling with ALS for over five years. Read about the disease that took Mitchell's life at such young age.

Kenneth Mitchell dead at 49 after battle with ALS. Photo: Instagram

Kenneth Mitchell, the Canadian actor who is best known for his roles in the television series "Star Trek: Discovery" and the Marvel film "Captain Marvel," passed away on Saturday at the age of 49. He had been battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for over five years.

Mitchell's family shared the news on his social media accounts, stating that he had lived with the debilitating neurological disease for more than five years. Despite his diagnosis in 2018, Mitchell's dedication to his craft never wavered. He continued to work, inspiring others with his resilience and leaving behind a legacy of diverse and memorable roles across film and television.

Audiences first encountered Mitchell in various television shows, including "Miracle," where he portrayed a hockey player, and the post-apocalyptic drama "Jericho," where he held a leading role as Eric Green. He also appeared in several other prominent series like "NCIS," "Grey's Anatomy," and "Criminal Minds," showcasing his versatility and talent.

In 2017, Mitchell joined "Star Trek" universe, portraying the Klingon warriors Kol, Kol-Sha, and Tenavik in "Star Trek: Discovery." He later voiced characters in "Star Trek: Lower Decks," further solidifying his place in the beloved sci-fi franchise. Beyond his captivating screen presence, Mitchell was known for his strong work ethic and dedication to understanding his characters. In a 2017 interview with StarTrek.com, he expressed his desire to challenge viewers' perspectives on the Klingons, stating, "Whether someone is good or bad is all about perspective, and it's about understanding that culture."

Mitchell's final years were marked by both personal challenges and continued artistic commitment. He continued to act, prioritizing time with his wife, actress Susan May Pratt, and their children Lilah and Kallum. He even adapted his work, turning down a lead role that required relocation for his family and working with the creators of "Nancy Drew" to ensure his participation despite his physical limitations. 

What is ALS?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. These nerve cells, called motor neurons, are responsible for sending messages from the brain to the muscles, controlling voluntary movements like walking, talking, swallowing, and breathing.

In ALS, these motor neurons gradually deteriorate and die, leading to:

1. Muscle weakness: This is the first and most prominent symptom, typically starting in the limbs and progressing to other muscle groups.

2. Muscle atrophy: As the muscles are no longer receiving signals from the brain, they begin to waste away and shrink.

3. Muscle twitching (fasciculations): These are involuntary muscle contractions that can be visible under the skin.

4. Difficulty speaking (dysarthria): The muscles involved in speech become weak, making it slurred or difficult to understand.

5. Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia): This can lead to malnutrition and dehydration.

6. Difficulty breathing: Eventually, the muscles controlling respiration become affected, requiring the use of a ventilator. 

While the exact cause of ALS remains unknown, several factors are believed to contribute to its development, including:

Genetics: About 10% of ALS cases are considered familial, meaning they run in families due to specific gene mutations.

Environmental factors: Exposure to certain toxins or environmental factors may increase the risk.

Abnormal protein buildup: Clumps of proteins called TDP-43 accumulate in the motor neurons, contributing to their damage and dysfunction.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for ALS. However, several treatment options can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life, including:

Medications, Physical therapy, Occupational therapy, Speech therapy, and Respiratory therapy.

ALS is a progressive and fatal disease. The average life expectancy after diagnosis is 3-5 years, although some individuals may live longer with proper care and support.