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Going viral for a good cause

Most everyone would agree that social media has both its pros and cons. 

The case of the Ice Bucket Challenge, which, unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few months you’ve undoubtedly heard about by now, falls into the former.

The idea of dumping an bucket of ice water over one’s head to raise money for charity apparently has some ambiguous origins but has crystallized recently as a means to generate funds and awareness of ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease after the hall of fame New York Yankee who was diagnosed with it in 1939.

Sometimes the awareness portion of the challenge is lost in the fun of the event.

Some claim the momentary shock to the system from the Ice Bucket Challenge is meant to illustrate the loss of muscle control experienced by people with ALS.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, ALS is “a rapidly progressive, invariably fatal” neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles.

As it progresses, all muscles under voluntary control are affected, causing those affected to lose their strength and the ability to move their arms, legs, and body. Eventually, when muscles in the diaphragm and chest wall stop working, a ventilator is needed to breathe. Most people with the disease die from respiratory failure, usually within three to five years from the onset of symptoms.

According to ALS Canada, two to three people in Canada die of ALS everyday. Approximately 2,500 to 3,000 Canadians currently live with the disease.

ALS quite literally robs those diagnosed with the disease of their former lives practically overnight.

For an example, look no further than the inspiring documentary on the life of Jason Becker, Not Dead Yet. The guitar phenom was well on his way to stardom when he was diagnosed with ALS at age 20.

Though his life is dramatically different, Becker, who was diagnosed in 1990, has defied the odds, surviving for nearly 25 years. 

Some have questioned whether the Ice Bucket Challenge has actually raised awareness about ALS. While that may be debatable, the activity has caused fundraising for research to go through the roof.

It just goes to show there is no parallel when it comes to the ability of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other similar sites to do good if an idea catches the public’s imagination.

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