Baton Rouge's most well-known news anchor is in the fight of her life.

Donna Britt had already beaten breast cancer, but now one of the city's longest on-air personalities is battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

And she's rallying the troops to help raise money to fight the disease.

On Sunday, Oct. 1, beginning at noon, chef John Folse is hosting Donna Britt Day at White Oak Plantation to "stir up a feast for a queen" and raise funds for the ALS Association Louisiana-Mississippi Chapter. 

The sold-out celebration is co-hosted by WAFB-TV, where Britt has anchored the news for the past 36 years, becoming almost a part of the family to thousands of viewers.

Over the years, viewers have seen her through her marriage to The Advocate's Mark Ballard and the birth of daughter Annie and son Louis. They cheered her on as she battled breast cancer.

Now, they are her prayer warriors as Britt faces this latest blow.

In July, Britt learned she has ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The diagnosis came after nine months of muscle weakness followed by three days of medical tests at the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute.

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"I can't stand or walk. I'm in a wheelchair," says the 59-year-old. "My arms are paralyzed, and only two fingers work. I type with those two fingers. I'm learning to adjust, but I have a very aggressive form of ALS."

ALS is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after the New York Yankees star who was forced to retire from baseball in 1939 at age 36 and who died in 1941. It falls into two basic categories: bulbar and lumbar. Bulbar ALS causes symptoms associated with swallowing, speech and respiration. Lumbar is the spinal form of the disease, and the symptoms relate to muscle weakness and wasting in the upper and lower limbs.

"I have lumbar ALS," says Britt, who has been keeping her legions of fans in the loop via her WAFB Facebook page. "I can feel all of my extremities, but the nerves and my motor skills just aren't there.

"When I started to lose use of my legs, Mark and I thought we'd work to strengthen my arms," she continues. "Turns out that's the worst thing we could have done. Working out destroys muscles in ALS patients. The disease keeps marching on even if I do nothing, so that's what I'm trying to do."

Britt's version of doing nothing doesn't mean sitting around feeling sorry for herself. She still goes to work five days a week, typing her scripts for the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts with the two fingers that still work.

"I have no plans to get off the air anytime soon," she says. "I like working, being with my friends. I've shut down all appearances except on the weekend if Mark or Louis can take me. Mark and Louis are my arms and legs."

The activity she says she is going to miss the most is being a bell ringer for the Salvation Army at Christmastime. For many years, Britt has taken part in the organization's Red Kettle drive in her own inimitable way — singing Christmas carols at the Walmart on College Drive.

"Now, if I sing, I'll damage my diaphragm, and if that goes, I won't be able to speak," she explains. "So, I'm asking people to go and sing in my place. Nothing gets you in the mood like Christmas carols. … I love them all."

Because she works nights, most of the cooking falls on husband Mark. But lately, he's been let off the hook thanks to a brigade from their church, First United Methodist, and Episcopal School, where Britt volunteered in the cafeteria for 20 years when her kids were students there.

Meanwhile, she continues to live each day to the fullest.

"I'm not going to live as a dying person," says Britt, emphatically. "I treat this like I'm standing in front of a pitching machine, and I'm just going to hit it out of the park."


Follow Pam Bordelon on Twitter, @pamspartyline.