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Bucket craze bolsters man awaiting diagnosis

The road to a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease has been long, lonely and winding for Carl Coakley.

For nearly two years, he has visited specialists and endured “a whole myriad of tests” from genetic screenings to chemical analyses.

But a final diagnosis has been frustratingly elusive for the King George County resident. Most of his doctors lean toward the Gehrig’s diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive disease that leads to paralysis and death.

The prognosis is grim, but at this point, Coakley and his family would be happy to know why his biceps twitch and he’s losing strength in his arms.

For Coakley, his wife and their daughter, the ubiquitous ice bucket challenge that has popped up all over Facebook has been a refreshing relief to the stress of waiting for answers.

The craze has people being willingly drenched with ice water to raise awareness and money for ALS, which has no cure.

The trend went viral this summer, with families, church groups, high school bands and individuals daring one another to douse themselves with ice water and donate money to the ALS Association and providing video proof on Facebook.

And the money began to flow. In the past two months, the ALS Association has raised $94.3 million, according to a press release issued Thursday. The group raised $2.7 million during the same time period last year.

“Some people say it’s just a fad,” Carl’s wife, Jeannie, said. “But the results are there, the money’s coming in and hopefully, it will be used the right way, for research and treatment.”

In early August, a relative dared Jeannie and daughter Katie to take the challenge.

“I knew I wanted to do it in a big way,” Jeannie said.

So, she invited her church congregation to join them.

And 32 members accepted, including the Rev. Peyton Wiltshire, the pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in King George.

“I had not heard of the bucket challenge, but I pulled up Facebook, and whoa, it was everywhere,” Wiltshire said.

Carl poured a bucket of ice water over the pastor’s head during the church’s ice bucket challenge.

After the individual challenges, the group lined up and Carl poured a front-loader heavy equipment machine filled with frigid water onto them for a final frosty show of support.

Church members ages 4 to 83 participated in the challenge. The event was fun, but not frivolous, Jeannie said.

The soggy group showed Carl that people cared about him and his problems. Later, church members came to the Coakley home to help with yard work that Carl has been unable to do since losing strength in his arms last fall.

“With all the stuff going on in the world right now—bad stuff, it’s good to know there are good people, and many of them are right here with us,” he said. “And we really appreciate it.”

Amy Umble: 540/735-1973


Locally, the ice bucket craze has spread quickly—with teachers taking it as they prepare for the first day of school, fire department chiefs and sheriffs getting dunked and high school marching bands taking the dare.

But for one local group prepping for the challenge, the trend is personal. Pulmonary Associates of Fredericksburg helps patients battling ALS. So, four doctors and some office staff members plan to get chilly to raise money for the ALS Association on Sept. 3.