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A simple idea with a huge impact

Monday, September 1, 2014

I really can’t tell you when last I have seen something more refreshing and more encouraging than the ALS Ice Bucket challenges that are popping up all over the Internet. 
Those challenges bring awareness and much needed funds to the ALS Association, which, among many things, supports research for this dreaded disease that paralyses and ultimately kills people. 

Often called Lou Gehrig’s disease for the famous New York Yankee baseball player that had to retire from sports because of the debilitating and ultimately fatal disease, ALS is the acronym for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In 1869, French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot was credited with being the first person to identify the disease, but it was Gehrig who gave ALS a face in 1939 when the all-star New York Yankee baseball player had to end his brilliant career because he was in the beginning stages of ALS.  

From then, ALS has been known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The ALS Association says the ALS “…is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death.  When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralysed.”

Among the famous people who have had ALS are baseball pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter and jazz musician Charles Mingus. American football player Steve Gleason, a former New Orleans Saints player has done much to bring attention to ALS since he was diagnosed with it. He continues his fund-raising drives even though he is now totally paralysed. Gleason recently participated in the ice bucket challenge. He now speaks with a special machine that allows him to spell out words with eye movements. ALS has been both a highly visible and a relatively invisible disease, paradoxically speaking.  American sports fans would be highly aware of ALS because of those beloved athletes mentioned above. 

But for those who are not sports fans, ALS might have slipped under the radar. That’s what makes this ice bucket challenge so important and so special. The ice bucket challenge has brought world-wide recognition to ALS, and it has brought awareness of the disease into our every day lives. Most importantly, it has had a tremendous affect on contributions made to the ALS Association. The Ice Bucket Challenge was originally meant to be an alternative: donate money to ALS or douse yourself with ice water. But a very special thing happened along the way. As more and more prominent people—actors and athletes—took the challenge and posted their experience on You Tube, people began to do both: donate money as well as do the ice bucket challenge.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge just goes to show how a simple idea or event can have a monumental impact on an issue. 

Between July 29 and August 26, donations to ALS from the Ice Bucket challenge hit $94.3 million. In a good year they were lucky to raise $24 million. Our challenge here in T&T is to respect the spirit of this effort and not cheapen it by being copycats that steal someone’s good idea and apply it to another cause. We have a habit of being unoriginal for the sake of garnering publicity in this country. People who participate in an Ice Bucket Challenge should be doing it for ALS.  If you have another cause, use your imagination and find a creative way to get support. Below please find my favourite sites that connect to ALS, people with ALS or ALS fund-raising. 

There’s a site for the ALS Association. “The Saints Come Back” with Gleason’s blocked punt features Steve Gleason giving the city of New Orleans a renewed sense of life and hope in the first game the Saints played back in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina wiped out the city.  You’ll find Lou Gehrig’s moving farewell speech to a packed Yankee stadium.  Finally, there’s Steve Gleason’s web site where you can see the touching video of Gleason taking the Ice Bucket challenge.

If you want to know more about ALS as well as motivate yourself to support a cause—any cause, check out these web sites:
1. The ALS Association home page—
2. The Saints Come Back with Gleason’s blocked punt—
3. Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech—
4. Think the Ice Bucket Challenge is Stupid? You’re Wrong—
5. Team Gleason Web site—


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