Tanya Lee | Let’s rally for Luton Shelton
I had promised to do a story this week on career options for athletes after retirement, but in the biggest example of how unpredictable life can be, the local sports fraternity has been rocked by the news that Jamaica's most prolific goalscorer, former Reggae Boy, Luton Shelton, has ALS at the age of 32.
Now, the question remains for many, what exactly is ALS? Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, is a progressive disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. In layman terms, it means "no muscle nourishment" where the brain's ability to initiate and control muscle movement is lost as nerve cells are destroyed.
People who experience ALS may progressively lose the ability to do normal day-to-day activities. The rate of progression varies, but as the illness progresses, routine tasks such as walking, talking, and chewing are impaired. Most persons gradually lose their ability to speak, eat, move, and breathe as they lose muscle mass and function over time.
Rare, random, incurable
ALS is a rare, random, and currently incurable disease. It is unique in that the rate of progression varies. There is a lifespan of, on average, two to five years after diagnosis, with some persons living up to 10 years. In one case, Stephen Hawking lived some 55 years after diagnosis.
The causes of ALS are unknown, but it has been fairly prevalent within the sports community, globally. ALS became popularly known as Lou Gherig's disease after the New York Yankee Hall of Famer was diagnosed with the illness at the age of 36. My online research reveals that as many as eight NFL players and 10 Italian footballers have been diagnosed to date.
Jamaica also lost former national footballer and coach Barrington 'Cobra' Gaynor to ALS in 2011 at the age of 45. Barrington was a former player at Harbour View Football Club.
And now, ALS hits close to home once again. The Harbour View and Wolmer's Boys' footballer made his international debut in 2004 as a brilliant teenager and scored not one, not two, not three, but four goals for the Reggae Boyz on his international debut. He went on to play 75 matches for Jamaica, scoring a record 35 goals in the process. That remains the most goals scored by any Jamaican in international football history.
Shelton has made an indelible contribution to Jamaica's football, and we cheered with him through the years. Now, there is the call for us to stand with him.
Hats off to Bobbette Shelton, his wife and primary caregiver whom I've had the pleasure of speaking with. She has been vital in providing support, along with the rest of their family and friends, and is a tower of strength for her husband. She expressed being thankful for all the prayers, well-wishes, and support Luton has received from Jamaicans everywhere this week since TVJ's Centre Circle aired promotional clips of last night's interview.
Exploring Treatment Options
As the journey continues, exploring treatment options is critical, but the medical costs are significant. Treatment options include occupational therapy, speaking devices, a feeding tube, and eventually, a wheelchair and home ventilator. Kudos to the JFF and a few others that have already pledged support.
Now you may recall that four years ago, social media was awash with the ALS 'ice bucket challenge'. The challenge went viral as everyone was ducking in buckets of ice and challenging friends to do the same to raise awareness and funding for ALS research. Numerous sports stars accepted the challenge, including Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, David Beckham, Michael Jordan, and Usain Bolt. The American ALS Association reportedly raised a whopping $220 million for ALS research.
And now, the challenge is out to all Jamaicans to contribute by way of Luton Shelton's National Commercial Bank local account, #214233150, Oxford Road Branch. Let's do this one for a great son of our soil.