Fundraising feat could carry slight health risk

Fundraising feat could carry slight health risk

CHAMPAIGN — It's fun, and doing something to help fight a debilitating and invariably fatal disease. But is dumping a bucket of icy water over your head safe for everyone?

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, a fundraising campaign for the ALS Association that's exploded via social media, has raised $53.3 million as of Friday, the organization said.

The announcement came a day after four firefighters in Kentucky were injured, two seriously, spraying college students with water for an ice bucket challenge. The fire truck ladder got too close to a power line.

That wasn't a typical ice bucket challenge. But still, Diana Schutz, a retired nurse in Catlin, said she wonders about the risk involved even with ice buckets for some people — especially those who may already be in a vulnerable health state and especially when it's hot — when icy water hits the skull.

Impact to the heart for someone with a heart condition, seizure and fainting are possibilities, she fears. And, she said, someone could always drop the container on your head.

"I know it's for a good cause and I don't have any objection to helping out good causes," she said.

But if it were her kids, Schutz added, "I would not want them to do it."

Dr. James Ellis, a Mahomet-based emergency room physician, said serious consequences would likely be rare for most people doing this challenge, as long as they're using a bucket and ice chips and they're in normal health.

"My son did it last night, and I think the normal person isn't going to have trouble with it," he said.

Dr. Maureen Malee, medical director at University of Illinois McKinley Health Center, agrees.

Being immersed into icy cold water could be a danger, but not having it poured over your head, "unless they threw the bucket at you," she said.

"I think the spirit of the challenge is reaffirming and a good thing, and certainly you can make a mess out of anything, but the simple thing of water over your head that's cold shouldn't have untoward consequences for the overwhelming majority of us," Malee said.

There are a few who should think twice, said Ellis, who is the regional director of ECI Healthcare Partners.

"If you have any significant airway problems, I wouldn't do it," he advised.

Probably ditto if you have advanced heart disease, he said.

"In that case, just donate the money, right?" he added.

The ALS Association is a national organization fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is also called Lou Gehrig's disease, a rapidly progressive disease that attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles.

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