You never really know how life is going to turn out in the long run. One minute it will be working in your favor, patting you on the back for a job well done for your contributions not only to society but to building character. On the other hand, life can really knock you down. Making sure that, while you maneuver all that life has to offer, it throws you a curveball that you never saw coming.
These curveballs come in the form of financial difficulties, passing of a loved one, an emergency that you weren’t able to prepare for, or an illness.
Recently, the world was informed of the disease the former Reggae Boyz (the popular name for Jamaica’s National Football) member has been plagued with – Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)—most commonly known as the Lou Gehrig’s disease. For Luton Shelton, illness has crippled his life in more ways than one, but with his alertness and spirited personality, he has not given up hope.
The former Jamaican striker and Reggae Boy has contributed a lot to Jamaica’s success in football. He is one of Jamaica’s most prolific scorers, with thirty-five international goals, earned seventy-five caps and played at three CONCACAF Gold Cups.
However, he was missing from the limelight following the Red Stripe Premier League match he played with his Harbour View club against Tivoli Gardens in 2017. This caused persons to ask about his whereabouts, but the response was indeed daunting; many caught knowledge of his illness by the viral video circulating.
“We sometimes ask him to get up and go out. But it’s easier for us to say, than a person who is prominent, and everybody been asking: ‘What happen to you?’, and he can’t relate. Sometimes he’d say to me: ‘Daddy when mi a go talk? Everybody a talk and a laugh, but what can I partake in?’ It’s really dreadful in itself to know that it’s one of those sicknesses that really locks you off from your social life.” – Luton Shelton Senior, Luton Shelton’s father.
Truth be told, he was diagnosed with the illness nineteen months after he got sustained injuries at the Red Stripe Premier League match back in 2017; the last match of his career as he had not been able to fully recover since.
“It is not an easy road. It surely messes with his synchronizing. He can hardly walk, can’t run anymore, cannot even bathe [by himself]. It’s just one of those things. I know he definitely feels sad if you try to assist him and in the earlier days he never used to feel pain and now he feels excruciating pain.” – Luton Shelton Senior, Luton Shelton’s father.
Football Club General Manager, Clyde Jureidini, revealed that Shelton was diagnosed between July and August 2018 with the disease amidst conducting medical tests to find a cause and solution for his injuries.
“It is something that is hard to even cope with, to know that okay you have this incurable illness. Even by taking the medication it might slow the progression, but [in the long run] it cannot be cured. [Nonetheless] it is something that we have to try to move forward from and pick the positive out of it and move forward.” – Mrs. Shelton, Luton Shelton’s wife.
His immediate and extended family are heartbroken, to say the least, at what seems to be an unfortunate fate of their beloved. They have done the necessary research required but nonetheless, nothing has adequately come close to preparing them or aiding them to cope. The thirty-two-year-old resides with his father and wife of five years (together for thirteen), Bobbette Shelton, with whom he has raised three children (ages three, eight and nine).
“We have to revolve our lives around him now because he needs our help. It wasn’t even something to think long on or think twice about. I made a vow to him and I’m here for him; his father and everyone is here to help out. So it wasn’t hard to transition to accommodate him. It is just that when it reaches a certain stage, I feel that I wouldn’t be as knowledgeable of the progression to help him, so at that point, we will have to get a trained nurse who is better able to take care of him.” – Mrs. Shelton, Luton Shelton’s wife.
The illness has debilitated Shelton; at this stage, his speech, muscle mass, nerve cells, and spinal cord have all been affected as a result of the progression. His family has been very supportive and tends to the needs of Shelton, especially interpreting his speech – a once innate ability that Shelton wishes to be able to do more than anything.
“For all his sickness, if he could trade it for just his speech. If he could still be able to speak and have his voice, that’s the only issue. Even if he still has his weaknesses here and there, the voice, that’s his main concern. If he starts a conversation, once you understand the line of conversation, you just put everything together. Some words are unclear but you just know exactly what he’s saying. I don’t know, I guess because I’m here with him all day, every day, and I just read his lips, so it’s easier for me.” – Mrs. Shelton, Luton Shelton’s wife.
As with most diseases, treatment can be quite costly, and as such the family has appealed to the public and those impacted by the contributions of Shelton to lend a helping hand and donate in any way possible. The family also hopes that the Jamaica Football Federation will become involved in the welfare of Shelton and the country will raise awareness for the disease.
The GoFundMe page is currently trending as two hundred and eighty-four persons were able to collectively donate a total of $15,300 of the $80,000.00 goal in as little as five days. Additionally, Sports Minister Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange has pledged that her Ministry will donate five million dollars to his treatment; other companies and individuals have pledged cash and kind as well.
ABOUT THE DISEASE
According to the ALS Association, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease affecting the brain’s nerve cells and spinal cord. ALS is usually diagnosed in persons between the ages of forty and seventy.
“A-myo-trophic” comes from the Greek language where “a” means no, “myo” is in relation to muscle, and “trophic” refers to nourishment; therefore, the word means “no muscle nourishment”. It is determined that when a muscle lacks nourishment, it wastes away or “atrophies”. On the other hand, “lateral” relates to aspects of an individual’s spinal cord where nerve signals and muscle control are located which over time degenerates leading to hardening or “sclerosis” in the region. When motor neurons die, the brain has difficulty initiating and controlling muscle movement and as such persons lose the ability to speak, move, eat and even breathe.
The cause for ninety to ninety-five percent of the reported cases to date is unknown, and the remaining 5% of diagnosis attributable to heredity due to one of two specific genes. There are two types of ALS – sporadic and familial – which sporadic is most common.
Research across the world, many funded by the ASL Association, have been dedicated to understanding, treating and ultimately curing the disease. While there is no immediate cure as yet, scientists have made a breakthrough in better understanding the disease, and persons living with ALS can live better lives by participating in support groups or attending a certified Treatment Centre.
THE FAMOUS ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE PROMOTING ALS
When you hear ALS, you can vaguely or vividly recall the Ice Bucket Challenge which took wings and became viral during the summer of 2014 (July-August). This challenge entailed a person dumping a bucket of ice cold water on their own or another person’s head to promote awareness of the disease, ALS. Following, the person would nominate someone to follow suit or donation to research.
By Alexandra Daley