While the “Ice Bucket Challenge” is sweeping the Internet’s social media and bringing awareness of, and funding to, the national ALS Association, people on the Hi-Line have a chance this weekend to show support and help with fundraising for a local man who was diagnosed with the disease this spring.
After noticing a variety of symptoms, Havreite Dan Stratton traveled in April to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for furthering testing and to meet with specialists. It was there that he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the neurological disease more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
A benefit dinner for Dan is set for Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Havre Eagles Club. Bob Morelli is making the spaghetti dinner, said Dan's wife, Stephne Erickson Stratton, and the cost is a whatever the diner’s wish to donate. The evening will also include a silent auction and a 50/50 raffle. Bank accounts for donations have also been set up at First State Bank in Malta and Bear Paw Credit Union in Havre.
Dan is one of the approximately 5,600 U.S. residents that the ALS Association estimates is diagnosed with ALS each year. Compared to the estimated 1,665,540 the American Cancer Society estimates will be diagnosed with cancer this year, the statistic seems small, but that is exactly what makes it so significant.
With relatively few ALS medical specialists and none in the area, said Stephne, Dan has to travel to Rochester for treatment and monitoring, and will be going to California for further medical consultation in September.
Stephne said that Dan’s mother died of ALS, but doctors told them then that it is not hereditary, so they were a little surprised when Dan’s doctors diagnosed him with the disease.
A welder by trade, Dan had to quit his job not too long after the diagnosis as his symptoms worsened.
ALS is a neurological disease based in the brain and spinal chord’s nerve cells that control the muscles. The brain’s thought processes aren’t affected, but as more and more of these nerve cells called motor neurons die off, muscle weakness symptoms increase to paralysis, which eventually progresses to the organs. At this point the disease is fatal, said the ALS Association website.
While the majority of patients live for two to five years after their diagnosis, the website says, about 20 percent live longer, even up to 20 years.
Most treatments at this point focus on managing symptoms, said Stephne, but research is ongoing and Dan’s doctors have said he is a good candidate to be a part of these medical studies. Right now, she added, he is on a waiting list to be a part of a research group.
In the meantime, Dan continues to travel for his doctoring, she said, and proceeds from the Saturday benefit will go toward travel and medical expenses.
“We’re getting lots of donations for the auction,” Stephne said. “It’s been a real blessing.”
It’s this community support that means the most, she added, and was pleased to hear that local people — including notables Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., Shawn Huse, Montana State University-Northern head basketball coach, and Marc Mariani, a Havre man playing football for the Tennessee Titans — have been joining in the Ice Bucket Challenge to support national efforts, too.
Stephne said that she and Dan are very thankful for everything people have done for them.
“It’s nice to see support in a small community,” she added. “Dan and I really appreciate it.”
The Ice Bucket Challenge
Started by Pete Frates, a 29-year-old former college baseball player whose ALS has progressed enough that he can no longer speak to communicate, the Ice Bucket Challenge inspires people either to pour a bucket of ice water over their head or donate $100 to ALS research.
Participants post video of their drenching online and challenge three more people to participate.
ABC News reported that this morning Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead took the challenge Tuesday, getting a bucket of ice poured over his head and donating money to the ALS Association. He then passed the challenge on to Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
The ALS website said $31.5 million has been raised as of Tuesday.