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ALS Claims Life of Former Vikings Star Orlando Thomas at 42

ABS_Orlando ThomasFormer Minnesota Vikings defensive back Orlando Thomas died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)  Sunday after a 10-year battle with the disease, which came into international focus this year because of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” that raised $115 million for research.

Thomas spent his seven-year career with the Vikings. As a second round draft pick in 1995 out of Southwestern Louisiana, now University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Thomas led the NFL with nine interceptions in his rookie year. He started 82 of 98 games throughout his career and totaled 22 interceptions and four defensive touchdowns. Thomas played in four playoff games, including two National Football Conference title games.

He began experiencing symptoms of ALS in 2004 when he was getting ready to join the Arizona Cardinals as an intern on the coaching staff, according to the Minneapolis Tribune. He coached the defensive backs through training camp, but was unable to return because of his worsening condition.

According to, Thomas lost his ability to speak and relied on his wife, Demetra Thomas, and blinking letters to communicate with others. While he was playing for the Vikings, Thomas weighed 225 pounds. His agent, Mark Bartelstein, said he was almost down to just 70 pounds.

“Nobody’s ever fought a battle like Orlando fought, with so much dignity,” Bartelstein told ESPN. “He never had a sense of self pity, never felt sorry for himself, he was always worried about everyone else.”

The Vikings responded in a statement yesterday saying they were “deeply saddened by the loss.”

“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,” the team said.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. When the motor neurons die, the brain is unable to control muscle movement. There is no cure for the disease. Earlier this year, the ALS Ice Bucket challenge went viral on social media to raise awareness about this debilitating disease, raising more than $115 million.

Thomas is survived by his wife and two children.

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