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Editorial: Ice buckets and Connolly aiding cause

Across the country, young and old alike are taking buckets of ice water to the head.

The campaign has raised awareness and money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Originally, participants were given a choice: Make a donation or face a chilly deluge. Many folks now make the donation regardless. And all of those YouTube clips and social media posts have deep resonance here in Concord, where CHS Principal Gene Connolly has recently made his diagnosis with the disease public.

But the giddy fun of watching someone endure a torrent of freezing water and ice cubes shouldn’t obscure the stark reality of the disease.

ALS is a neurodegenerative, progressive illness that is ultimately fatal. And while the affected population is relatively small – some 30,000 in the United States, according to the ALS Association – there are few options for those facing the disease.

The FDA has approved a single drug to treat it. Other medication is being tested, and other treatments can improve the quality of life of those facing the disease, but more money and awareness are positive goals.

The “ice bucket challenge” has achieved both those things, but it has earned critics along the way. They say the campaign detracts from serious charitable goals, and that its outrageous energy should be redirected.

This seems shortsighted. No one thinks that a disease like ALS can be cured through a social media campaign, and skyrocketing donations to the ALS Association speak for themselves. As long as participants inform themselves about the disease and its toll, let the ice buckets do their work.

Locally, though, Connolly has made a bigger contribution than any of those appearing in the online campaign. His decision to talk about his diagnosis in a forthright way is important. And his decision to continue working as principal is more important still.

“I love my job here,” he wrote in an open letter, “and will continue to work and be a part of this great community for as long as I possibly can. I want to assure you that despite my diagnosis, I feel well and I am eager to continue our work of building a vibrant school community.”

Too often, those with chronic diseases or serious medical conditions keep them secret. They don’t want to be judged based on something so far from their control. And when the disease or condition becomes visible, many choose to withdraw or limit their appearances in public.

To his immense credit, Connolly is doing neither.

In just doing his job, Connolly will be a hugely important advocate in the battle against ALS. Students at Concord High will see how their principal lives and works with his diagnosis. The disease will no longer be a rarity seen online or on TV news. It will be an everyday presence in their lives.

That’s awareness of a kind that no YouTube video can hope to match.

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