Minnesotans throw cold water on ALS

MINNEAPOLIS – The medical staff at the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) decided to throw cold water on a dreaded disease Saturday. Eleven members of the ALS treatment staff took the popular "ice bucket challenge."

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is usually fatal within two to five years of a diagnosis. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease in which the victim gradually loses the ability to control muscle movement, eventually leading to death.

"About 30,000 people in the United States have this disease," said Dr. Ezgi Tiryaki, HCMC physician. "In Minnesota, we think it is around 500 at any given time."

Dr. Tiryaki was one of those on the HCMC lawn Saturday afternoon, ready to have a bucket of ice water poured over their heads. The demonstration was part of a nationwide movement that has gone viral over the internet in just a few weeks.

The ALS Association reports that it has received $11.4 million in donations from July 29-August 16. That compares to $1.7 million during the same period in 2013. Most reassuring is that the fund raising involved 220,255 new donors to the Association.

Dr. Bionn Tonkin, HCMC Doctor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, said the HCMC crew was challenged to take the ice bucket shower by a local ALS Association official. In return, once their icy shower is over, they can challenge up to three others.

"We want to challenge the Hennepin Health Care Systems board members," announced Dr. Tiryaki. "Veterans are twice as likely to get ALS and it is a disease where they get excellent care at the VA. So, all members of the VA, all the health care providers, you are challenged!"

Additionally, Tiryaki challenged educators at the University of Minnesota and the University of St. Thomas, "especially the ones involved in ALS research."

One by one, the 11 members of the HCMC staff dumped buckets of water laced with ice cubes over each others' heads. After a bit of shivering and surprise, all agreed that it was a worthwhile effort.

"Because I think it makes a statement," said Shelley Anderson, HCMC ALS Coordinator. "People are willing to come out, spend their Saturday, come out and do this. It shows they are committed."

There is presently no cure for ALS. The one available treatment drug can only extend survivability in some cases.


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