Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
Of all the Ice Bucket Challenges completed in 2014 to help raise awareness about ALS and funds for research, perhaps none were as memorable as Sam Coghlan's bone-chilling show of support on the last day of the year.
With the mercury well into the minuses Wednesday morning, the Harrington resident and retired librarian bravely took a cold bucket of snow and ice over his head while wearing nothing more than a bathing suit and sandals.
"I'm glad that it's over," Coghlan said minutes later while still waiting for his hair to thaw. "But I can't help but thinking about the people with ALS for whom it's never over."
Often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a rapidly progressive neuro-muscular disease in which nerve cells die and leave voluntary muscles paralyzed. There is no effective treatment or cure. As a result, 80 per cent of people with ALS die within two to five years of diagnosis.
Coghlan understands this all too well. His sister, Dorothy Milanese, died from ALS in 2005 just months after diagnosis.
He recalled his sister phoning him from Thunder Bay almost exactly 10 years ago to tell him she had the fatal disease. Knowing little about ALS, Coghlan immediately delved into the library's resources to learn more. Coghlan said he wasn't surprised, given what he had read, at just how soon the disease claimed his sister.
Coghlan accepted the Ice Bucket Challenge in the summer but purposely waited until Dec. 31 - what would have been his sister's 69th birthday.
"My sister had such a cool birthday, I had to acknowledge that," he said.
Coghlan completed the challenge out front of Stratford Public Library, where he worked as CEO for nine years before retiring in 2013. Helping with the dousing were his stepson Caleb Sprague and Sprague’s daughter Lily, 7, who appeared more than happy to oblige.
As per protocol, Coghlan issued a challenge of his own afterwards to librarians and libraries across Ontario to let their communities know about the ALS information they have available. He even wore a T-shirt after the challenge with 616.83 printed across it - the Dewey decimal number used in most libraries for ALS-related materials.
He’s also encouraging people to donate to ALS Canada to help provide necessary medical equipment and other support services to families who are touched by ALS, and to help find a treatment and a cure.
Charlene Spector, regional manager with ALS Canada, said she was proud to have been a part of what was likely the last ice bucket challenge of 2014 – an incredible year for ALS organizations as the fundraising and awareness campaign, which started in the United States, went viral thanks to video sharing on popular sites like Facebook and Youtube.
The results speak for themselves: 260,000 donors contributed $16.2 million towards ALS research in Canada.
"We're a small organization, but this campaign has touched a lot of people's lives,” said Spector, who is hopeful for similar results in 2015. "We'd like to continue the momentum, certainty. We have a phenomenal new donor platform with (the Ice Bucket Challenge).”