August 20, 2014 Edition

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Walnut Ridge Mayor Don House (from right), District Court Judge Jason Marshall, WRPD Chief Richy Thatcher and 10 others participated in the ALS ice bucket challenge Tuesday. The challenge is designed to raise awareness of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl

Local officials take
cold water challenge

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

Walnut Ridge Mayor Don House, State Sen. Robert Thompson, District Court Judge Jason Marshall and many other officials and residents took the ALS ice bucket challenge Tuesday afternoon.

The challenge, which has raised over $20 million nationwide over the summer, has spread through social media to raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

The ice bucket challenge, also commonly referred to as the cold water challenge, involves pouring a bucket full of ice cold water over one's head. The challenge has been used to raise money for many different causes, requiring those challenged to either accept the challenge or make a donation, but the popularity of the ALS ice bucket challenge has grown dramatically over the summer.

House was happy to continue to spread awareness of the deadly disease and he and 12 others took the challenge.

House has had ALS impact his life several times, the most recent of which was the death of his wife, Mary, who was diagnosed one year ago. He said that it's affected more in the area than he had previously thought and referred to it as the silent killer.

The disease affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, causing loss of motor function and eventually leads to death. Currently there is no known cure, and medication has only been able to slightly extend the life expectancy, which is usually two to five years from diagnosis.

Mary House was 10 days short of living nine months after her diagnosis.

Don said ALS has been in his life since 1977 when he had his first encounter with a 26-year-old man who had been diagnosed. He said the young man had been healthy his whole life, just as Mary had been when she was diagnosed.

In early stages, ALS has mild effects. With Mary, she had a raspy voice, which she blamed allergies for, and difficulties lifting her right foot. It wasn't until Valentine's Day 2013 when she took her first fall that they knew she had something more serious.

"Doctors didn't know what was wrong, they felt that something was very wrong, but they didn't know what," House said.

Mary, like others who have contracted this disease, lost the ability to move and eventually the ability to breathe. Don said there isn't much pain though there is some discomfort and the victims remain fully aware. "They can feel an itch, they just can't scratch it," he said.

He added that one of the most helpful places for them throughout Mary's illness was the MDA/ALS Research Center at UAMS. He strongly encourages anyone who has been diagnosed to go there. "They were very helpful and comforting in their care," he said.

Don said that Mary was very courageous after her diagnosis and he credits that to her friends and family and her faith in God. "Her faith saw her through," he said.

Mary was diagnosed on Aug. 19, 2013, and House said it timed out just right to take the cold water challenge on the anniversary of that date.

Those taking the challenge alongside House were his son, Jim Ed House; mayoral candidates, Ed Lawson and Charles Snapp; Walnut Ridge City Water Works Manager John Kopp; Alderman Wendell Jones; incoming city attorney Nancy L. Hall, Esq.; Sen. Robert Thompson; District 20 State Senator candidate Blake Johnson; Deputy Chris Kirksey; Police Chief Richy Thatcher; District Judge Jason Marshall and Fire Chief Frank Owens.

Marshall said he was happy to participate in anything to raise awareness and honor Mary's memory and that he will be challenging quite a few others.

"I hope they have the courage to take the challenge, donate to the cause or to do both," he said.

After taking the challenge, Thompson said, "It was cold and for a good cause. If it spreads awareness and raises money, it's worth it."

Through spreading awareness, House hopes people can better understand ALS and its effects. Approximately 5,600 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS each year. ALS can strike anyone, regardless of age or ethnicity.

Through the ice bucket challenge, $22.9 million has been raised compared to $1.9 million in the same time frame last year. House gives a lot of credit for that to social media.

"We couldn't have done this 10 years ago. Social media has allowed us to do this."

Through their efforts, those taking the challenge at Walnut Ridge City Hall raised over $600 for ALS research. House strongly encourages everyone to continue to donate.

To learn more about ALS or to make a donation, visit www.alsa.org.

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