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Orlando Thomas (pictured), a defensive back for the Minnesota Vikings, has passed away at age 42 after a seven-year battle with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, according to the Star Tribune.

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Thomas, a second-round draft pick out of Southwestern Louisiana (now University of Louisiana at Lafayette) in 1995, played solely with the Vikings until 2001. The former player who stood 6’2″ and around 225 pounds most of his playing career, reportedly whittled down to a mere 70 pounds at the time of his passing.  Thomas had a noteworthy career with his team, starting 82 of 98 career games for them and intercepting 22 passes. He scored four touchdowns, two on fumbles and two on interceptions.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.  People diagnosed with ALS lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement, which often leads to total paralysis and death within two to five years of diagnosis. There is no cure and only one drug is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that modestly extends survival.  The viral Ice Bucket Challenge in support of ALS research that swept the globe during the late summer has helped raise awareness, and according to the ALS Association, more than $115 million was raised.

As a result of the debilitating disease, Thomas lost his ability to speak as his ALS progressed and relied on his wife, Demetra, and blinking letters in order to communicate with others.

The Vikings organization released a statement on Monday with regards to Thomas’ passing:

 

“Orlando was an outstanding player for the Vikings for seven years, but more importantly, he represented the franchise and the state of Minnesota with the utmost dignity and class. While his outgoing personality made him a favorite among his teammates, Orlando’s involvement in the community made him a favorite outside of Winter Park.”

Thomas leaves behind his wife Demetra and two young children.

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