LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Over the past month, thousands of people – from professional athletes, actors and politicians to teenagers and the average Joe – have taken the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease.”

But just how big of an impact has the challenge had?

As of Tuesday, the national ALS Association has received $22.9 million in donations compared to $1.9 million during the same time period (July 29 to August 19) last year. In Kentucky, donations have increased nearly 500 percent.

“It's unprecedented,” said Debbie Summers, chair of the Advocacy and Care Services Committee with ALS of Kentucky. “We've never seen anything like it.”

The challenge started in early July shortly after former Boston College baseball captain and ALS patient Pete Frates
wrote an essay that appeared in the Bleacher Report
about his tireless effort to raise awareness about the disease.

ALS is a motor neuron disease that has been around for more than a century, but it wasn't until Lou Gehrig abruptly retired from baseball in 1939 after being diagnosed with the disease that millions became more aware of it.

According to the ALS Association, the disease strikes people between the ages of 40 and 70, and as many as 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time. Summers said there are currently "250-300 cases" of ALS in Kentucky.

Frates' story has inspired millions to partake in the Ice Bucket challenge -- and in a short time has generated quite a buzz on social media.

It works like this: people make a video of themselves as a bucket of ice water is poured over their heads and then post it on Facebook or Twitter and then nominate others to do the same within 24 hours – or they can donate $100 to ALS. Many choose to do both.

“It's really been a cyber blessing,” said Summers. “Everyone from Bill Gates and Oprah to Taylor Swift and John Calipari have taken the challenge. We are so grateful for the increase of awareness.”

Summers noted this summer marked the 75
anniversary of Gehrig's famous farewell speech to baseball.

“Sadly, I have nothing new to offer to my patients now in terms of a cause, treatment or a cure than they did 75 years ago for Lou Gehrig,” she said. “I can help ease their symptoms, but there is no cure or effective treatment to stop the progression. This challenge may be the watershed moment that many of us have been hoping to see for many years.”

Barbara Newhouse, president and CEO of the ALS Association, said in a statement Tuesday her organization's goal is to acknowledge “all the gifts made by donors.”

“We want to be the best stewards of this incredible influx of support,” she said. “To do that, we need to be strategic in our decision making as to how the funds will be spent so that when people look back on this event in ten and twenty years, the Ice Bucket Challenge will be seen as a real game-changer for ALS.”

On Tuesday, the Waggener High School baseball team took on the challenge – and in turn challenged other baseball teams within Jefferson County Public Schools to do the same.

“With the obvious connections between baseball and ALS, I thought it would be great to have our baseball team participate,” said Jake Fiorella, the head baseball coach at Waggener.

Fiorella also gave a $100 check to Summers, who in turn participated in the challenge for the first time and issued a challenge of her own – to University of Louisville head football coach Bobby Petrino and head basketball coach Rick Pitino.

“John Calipari and Mark Stoops have already done it, will U of L do the same?” Summers said with a smile.

Disclaimer: The author of this article has participated in the Ice Bucket challenge. Toni Konz was nominated by St. X High School junior Eli Thompson. She accepted and in turn challenged Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens, Scott Utterback, a videographer at The Courier-Journal, and Keith Kaiser, a reporter at WDRB News.

You can see Konz's video here.

As of 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Kaiser had accepted the challenge (see his video here).

Utterback also said he accepted the challenge and Fischer said Tuesday he will participate “in some way.”

“I think it's fantastic, the increase in attention to ALS,” Fischer said “We are trying to think of best way to bring the maximum amount of attention through social media.”



Snail Mail
: The ALS Association Kentucky Chapter, 2815 Amsterdam Road, Villa Hills, Ky  41017 

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 585-0839 or @tkonz on Twitter. Copyright 2014 WDRB News. All rights reserved.