Students find ways to participate in ALS Challenge during drought

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Raising awareness: (From left to right) junior Victor Lu pours a bucket of ice water over senior Thanh Le doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Jessica Dang, Staff Writer

As long as there is social media, trends and stunts will continue to go viral.  For the past month Bear Creek’s students and countless individuals across the United States have participated in the famous ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is where a bucket full of ice water is dumped on someone’s head in order to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and increase donations in hopes of one day finding a cure.

According to the ALS Association, ALS is a disease that deteriorates nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord and leads to the person’s death after the brain is unable to initiate and control muscle movement.

Most people develop ALS between the ages of 40 and 70, with the most common age of diagnosis at 55.  Sophomore Britney Tran’s grandfather died of ALS and she saw firsthand the debilitating nature of the disease.

“My grandfather was 66 when he died from ALS,” Tran said. “It affected and restricted his movement of arms and legs.”

Tran’s grandfather was diagnosed with sporadic ALS in 2009 and died two years later in 2011.  The average life expectancy of an ALS patient is between two to five years from the time of diagnosis, but life expectancy depends on the varying forms of the disease: sporadic, familial and Guamanian.

In order to raise awareness, the ALS Association initiated the phenomenon that would be popularized by celebrities ranging from Oprah Winfrey to Taylor Swift.  The charity raised about $5.7 million in donations between July 29 and August 13.  According to the ALS Association, the total amount of money pledged since then has skyrocketed to $70.2 million and is well on its way to $100 million.

Raising money for a disease-specific charity is considered honorable by most, but some critics have claimed that the water challenge is at best unwise due to the ongoing drought — and at worst can even be dangerous.

A Kentucky firefighter, Tony Grider, passed away after being shocked by electricity from a power line as he and other firefighters sprayed water on a group of college students below who were doing the challenge.  Corey Griffin, cofounder of the Ice Bucket Challenge, drowned after diving off a building at Straight Wharf in Nantucket on Aug. 27 to pull off the charity stunt.

According to National Report, in California alone, 33 million gallons of water have been used daily for the Ice Bucket Challenge resulting in the hashtag #droughtshaming.

Junior Julianne Dang Tran and senior Steven Rosales were nominated for the challenge, but each turned it into an environment-friendly challenge.

“In some ways, [the hashtag] is reasonable because there are other ways to raise awareness,” Dang Tran said. “Wasting water should not have to be a part of it, which is why I did not use any to raise awareness for both the disease and the drought.”

Dang Tran led viewers to believe that she would use water to participate in the challenge, but instead used an empty bucket.  She shifted the focal point of her message to the empty levee behind her backyard, questioning why people would participate in a water-based challenge during a drought.

“I think that it depends on how you do the challenge because I did it in my pool so technically I did not waste any water,” Rosales said.

The ALS Association is currently committed to using $90 million to fund research on finding the main cause of ALS.  Recently, researchers have discovered that some individuals with familial ALS may have two proteins [TDP43 and FUS] that can help defend the survival of motor neurons that allow the body to receive signals to function from the brain.

The early symptoms of ALS include the weakening, wasting and paralyzing of muscles that control speech, swallowing and breathing.

Treatments and therapies that are currently being researched include patients swallowing small compounds and simple molecules in the form of a pill and researchers determining that the motor neurons are not the only cells contributing to ALS, but the surrounding cells as well and use them as target cells.

One of the ALS Association’s main purpose is to support and assist ALS patients and their families by creating awareness and offering its network of support groups, programs and certified clinical centers and services.

“I cried a lot because it was painful seeing him helpless and expecting him to die soon after seeing that he had all of the symptoms of the disease,” Tran said.  “I am glad that people are finally becoming aware of the disease.”