Breathing. It comes so naturally -- we inhale and exhale without event thinking about it. But for patients with ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, the muscles in the diaphragm deteriorate. Now a device that has been helping the heart pump for years is pushing patients further -- pumping in new life with every breath.

Angela Thompson, ALS patient: "Me being able to walk and run, that was the first challenge I had."

A once avid runner was stopped in her tracks, silenced by the struggles to operate her tongue muscle. It was a downward spiral she just couldn't grip. And it got worse.

Angela Thompson: "Me driving with my right hand, I can't hold a pencil, I can't write anymore."

Then simply getting air was a struggle.

Angela Thompson: "If I would get out of bed and sit in my chair, I would be out of breath."

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS had taken hold in Angela's body. And though she couldn't control the impact to her muscles, she could decide how it played in her mind.

Angela Thompson: "Just because I have ALS, I'm not letting ALS live me. I'm living it."

And that includes offering her life to potentially help others and herself in the process -- volunteering to be the first patient implanted with a diaphragmatic pacemaker at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System.

Angela Thompson: "When I came through he told me my left lung wasn't working at all and then when he hooked it up and I could tell the difference in my breathing, my speech. When he was talking to me I was able to form words. I was like 'Yes!' I was amazed because I didn't ever think it was possible."

It was possible with this! Angela's doctor, cardio-thoracic surgeon Dr. Khaled Abdelhady implanted electrodes in the diaphragm.

Dr. Khaled Abdelhady, University of Illinois Hospital, Cardiothoracic Surgeon: "This is a device that will deliver an electrical impulse to the diaphragm muscle, which is the sheer muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen and the major muscle contributing to breathing."

Dr. Khaled Abdelhady: "And this device can control the depth of each breath by controlling how much electricity it delivers. It also controls the rate of breathing to meet the patients' needs and to be able to deliver enough oxygen to the tissues to maintain life and avoid the need to be on an artificial ventilator."

Angela Thomspn: "I can tell the difference."

Because Angela's diaphragm still had some function she was a candidate for the pacemaker, which then continues to strengthen the muscle.

Dr. Khaled Abdelhady: "It will hold the progress of the disease in terms of the breathing complications."

Angela Thompson: "I knew right away because I felt it. I could breathe in and I was like 'Wow!' It was amazing!"

And it keeps this amazingly positive woman right on pace to live her life to the fullest. And as she looks back on photos from the past, she has no regrets.

Angela Thompson: "My go-getter days when I was able to do anything. Skydive, run, dance. I'm happy I was able to do everything I wanted to do. So this, I'm ok with."