Two years ago, Catherine Littlewood started having trouble singing. The 59-year-old who had delighted audiences at the Capitol Theatre could no longer hit the right notes. Soon, she would no longer be able to speak or swallow on her own.
After more than six months of endless medical tests, a team of doctors in Vancouver handed Littlewood the final diagnosis: ALS. A life expectancy of three-to-five years.
“That’s when your heart drops,” said Walter Littlewood, Catherine’s husband. “It’s not the retirement plan we had in mind.”
ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease, attacks a person’s nervous system by breaking down the motor neurons in muscles and the brain, essentially cutting out communication between the brain and the body. It paralyzes the victim and leads to muscle degeneration. There is no single test to diagnose a person with ALS and there is no known cure.
This Sunday, the ALS Society of BC is hosting the 17th annual West Kootenay WALK for ALS at Lakeside Park in Nelson to raise awareness and money. 60 per cent of donations go directly to supporting families and 40 per cent goes to ALS research.
Catherine Littlewood passed away last November with her family at her side. Her husband and primary caregiver, meanwhile, was left emotionally and physically drained.
“One thing I’d like to warn caregivers of a victim of ALS is that burnout is a real possibility,” he said. “There are lots of people around who can help you help the victim, like Catherine.”
Last year, Littlewood pushed an empty wheelchair along Lakeside Park’s gravel path because one year into her diagnosis, Catherine was too ill to join. On Sunday, Littlewood will walk again to honour his late wife and to support those struggling with the disease.
The ALS Society of BC offers free in-home care services and equipment rentals. And when the medical technology required to support a person with ALS can run over $140,000 for a family, Littlewood says that the Society’s help is irreplaceable.
“They get the equipment to you before you need it,” he said. “You’re going, ‘oh, well we don’t need that yet,’ and they just go, ‘you will. You will.’”
For Littlewood, the nursing help from local organizations like the ALS Society of BC and the Nelson and District Hospice Society was also vital to his own health.
“You do everything you can, you love the person,” he said. “But you get burned out and love doesn’t really—you don’t have time to even think about that. You’re just trying to take care of the person and get some sleep whenever you can so that you can just keep helping.”
Gord Shannon, who was diagnosed with ALS in 1997, has coordinated the West Kootenay WALK for ALS since 2006. He’s inviting community members to meet him at the Rotary Club shelter by the tennis courts at Lakeside Park at 10 am on Sunday to register for the 11 am walk.
“It means a tremendous amount to have the community turn out,” he said.
80 to 100 participants are expected at the event. For those interested in supporting the ALS Society of BC but who can’t make it on Sunday, tax-deductible donations can be made through their website, events.alsbc.ca.
Since the West Kootenay WALK for ALS started in 2001, the organization has raised over $500,000 for research and local family support.
• Registration at 10 am, this Sunday at Rotary Club Shelter;
• Walk starts at 11 am;
• Online registration and donations at events.alsbc.ca.