Fri | Dec 3, 2021

Shelton tackles biggest challenge - Striker battles chronic disease

Published:Thursday | October 11, 2018 | 12:00 AMRachid Parchment/Sports News Coordinator
Luton Shelton and his wife, Bobbette.
From left: Luton Shelton; his wife, Bobbette; and his father, Luton Shelton Sr during an interview at the former national striker's upper St Andrew home.
Luton Shelton and his wife, Bobbette.
Shelton in action for the Reggae Boyz.
Shelton playing for Jamaica against Peru in 2006.

One of Jamaica's most prolific goalscorers, Luton Shelton has been battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. At 32 years old, Shelton could still play football at the highest level, however, not much was seen of him since his return to his boyhood club Harbour View FC in the 2016-17 season of the Red Stripe Premier League.

His second stint at the club was a short-lived one owing to constant ailments and niggling injuries.

The Gleaner was invited into his upper St Andrew home where he resides with his wife Bobbette. The couple, who has been together for 13 years, will celebrate their fifth year of marriage in December. They have three young children aged nine, eight, and three.

Despite his now slurred speech because of ALS, Shelton still tries to express himself to The Gleaner vocally and always with a smile. This deteriorating speech, his father Luton Shelton, Sr, said, was one of the first signs that his health was seriously in decline. Because of the strain on his vocal chords and the difficulty for others not around him regularly to understand him, his father and wife interpreted on his behalf.

"For about a year and a half or nearly two years, we thought, more or less, he had minor strokes," Luton Sr said. "First, the voice slurred. We don't know of him having high blood pressure because strokes are really associated with high blood pressure and that kind of thing.

"One of the times, I thought because he was in Denver (in Colorado) and it's cold, he contracted a cold. It went on and on until the voice started to get worse. He did a series of tests as it got worse - tests to his voice box, MRIs, a series of bloodwork - and they didn't find anything conclusive in terms of cancer, STIs (sexually transmitted diseases), or anything to associate with the cause. They were some expensive tests.


Disease more aggressive


"I found a friend who had it and she came and talked to him to give him more hope. He felt more hopeful then, but it started to take a more aggressive form," said Luton Sr.

He explained that ALS is not a sudden illness, but one that progressively worsens the afflicted's condition. "It's a progressive illness that takes its toll stage by stage," he said. "Stage by stage doesn't mean in days or in months, but it can be over a period of time. We're trying in terms of seeking medical advice. We have been doing it here (in Jamaica)."

The former national striker's father told The Gleaner that his son visited nutritionists looking for a solution but didn't see any improvement. "That was for about six months, and we didn't see a change. He was even diagnosed with milder symptoms. It's still a multi-neuron disease - myasthenia gravis. We were taking the medication for it, which didn't cure it but it kind of contained the sickness. This would have made him recover his voice, some of his strength. He was on steroids - Prednisone."

Prednisone is a drug used to treat auto-immune diseases such as ALS and myasthenia gravis. It is also used to suppress the immune system.


Our lives revolve around him - Bobbette


Like the caring wife she has been, Bobbette, with Luton's hand in hers, sat beside him. She seemed to have an almost telepathic understanding of her husband. Bobbette understood his utterances even better than his father and said that it was because she now spends all her time with him; however, she does not mind.

"Basically, our lives revolve around him because he needs everything," she said. "It wasn't even something to think twice about. I made a vow and I'm here for him. His father is here, and everyone is here to help out and rally around him. It wasn't hard to transition, just to accommodate him and his needs."

Luton Sr describes his feelings towards his daughter-in-law as grateful because of her dedication.

"When Bobbette came into his life, she was always there with him on every journey. He started to branch out and had his own family. But it's a sad thing to know how it has transpired," he said.

"It's hard. I can remember one time, she literally collapsed. She's the literal breadgiver. Being a wife and having their kids around, she has to do most of the things (around the house). I remember one day he woke and she had so many things to do and he couldn't get to her. He was like, 'Daddy, you need to go see what's happening with her.' It was a good thing because ... she didn't even know when she got to the hospital."

Luton Sr is mindful that his son's condition will worsen and he worries that he will then need a gastric feeding tube. He and Bobbette are also aware that at this point, they will also need a nurse, with professional training, for round-the-clock care.

The sports ministry will donate $5 million to Shelton's cause.