September 26, 2020

BY JOANNA DITTMER

Imagine suffering from a disease that there is no cure for; one that you know, in the end, will kill you.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is one of these diseases, and one that Bert Last, an audio/visual technologist at Conestoga College, knows only too well. His mother Jeanette died from the disease in February 2011. Last decided to never cut his hair until he retires to raise money for and awareness of ALS.

Last said his last trim was March 5, 2012.

ALS is a rapidly progressive neuromuscular disease in which nerve cells die and leave voluntary muscles paralyzed.

Last said the idea behind growing his hair came from his days in high school. A fellow student was known for his long hair, and then one day he came to school with his head completely shaved. That is something that everyone remembers.

“When I retire, at least they will remember my presence at the college,” Last said.

ALS is diagnosed through an elimination process as the symptoms closely match those of a number of other diseases or neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis.  These symptoms include weakening limbs and slurred or nasally speech.

Last said his brother, Gerry, who lives in Washington, D.C, has started a foundation called Blues for ALS, to help raise funds and awareness for the ALS community.

Blues for ALS will play for free at any fundraising event as long as the proceeds go to a local ALS organization.

Last said he hopes his brother will be able to come here and play when he cuts his hair at his retirement party.

He hopes to get other people interested in doing something like this as well.

“Another goal that I have is to get other people involved who want to do the same for charity,” he said, adding that it can be any charity, not just the one he chose. “I’ve talked to a few people and they’re showing interest.”

According to ALS.ca, patients suffering from the disease need a lot of support from family.

“ALS is a very costly disease (it can cost anywhere between $200,000 and $400,000 over the course of the disease for equipment and care) and caring for a loved one has a huge financial impact on families across the country,” the website states.

Donna Snyder, also an audio/visual technician at Conestoga College’s Doon campus, and who also shares an office with Last, supports his endeavour. “I think it’s a really great idea,” she said.

Last is excited to see how his effort unfolds.

“It’s about raising awareness. I want to do it until I retire, although I don’t know what the date is yet. It’ll depend on certain things … maybe in a couple years,” he said.

If interested in shaving your head for your own cause, contact Last at ext. 2264.