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Voiceless Shelton speaks for ALS sufferers

Published:Thursday | October 11, 2018 | 12:00 AMRachid Parchment/Sports News Coordinator
Luton Shelton (right) and wife Bobbette hold hands at their East Kirkland Heights home.
(Left to right) Luton Shelton, wife Bobbette and father Luton Snr during an interview at the former national striker's East Kirkland Heights home.

He may have lost his voice, but former national footballer Luton Shelton is hoping that his experience will make some noise around a condition that has cost him and many others so much.

Shelton has decided to come forward about his recent diagnosis with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS - more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease) - because he believes that raising awareness about the disease can help other Jamaicans who it may affect.

Shelton, one of Jamaica's most decorated strikers of the mid-to-late-2000s, was a fan favourite in the Reggae Boyz team, especially for his talismanic goalscoring rate, which saw him become the top goalscorer of all time for Jamaica, with 35 goals.

He was diagnosed with ALS last summer after a year and a half of mysterious ailments, which doctors had previously struggled to associate with a cause.

The 32-year-old, whose speech has been severely affected by the condition, has to rely on family members to express himself as his words have now become incoherent. His father, Luton Sr, told The Gleaner that the family had remained silent on the illness because they wanted privacy. However, they decided that it was only fair to give his concerned fans, who had been questioning his absence from his club, Harbour View FC, and the national senior men's football team, an explanation.

"A lot of persons kept asking, and to deny is like telling a lie," Luton Sr said. "We tried to keep it private as much as possible. You heard people saying, 'Luton Shelton has cancer', and we didn't want to mislead anyone. He himself said he owes the fans because he's a missing figure in the sporting arena. Persons are always at matches saying, 'Bwoy, if Luton did inna dis match,' or 'If Luton did inna deh team deh ... ,' and he's still at an age where he could be playing.


Use his celebrity to advocate


Bobbette is Shelton's partner and mother to his three young children. The couple has been together for over 13 years and will celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary in December. She said on his behalf that he wants to use his celebrity to give a voice to other persons afflicted with ALS.

"Everybody has been speculating," she said. "They heard that Luton is sick, and they want to know what is wrong with him. Even though we're private individuals, he is a public figure, and I just saw it fit that we came together as a family. We spoke about it, and we decided that it's something that we needed to do to inform the public what is going on with Luton. It would raise awareness about that rare illness he has, and, hopefully, get some assistance with that. He said that's the main reason he came forward."


Onset of disease


Luton Sr said that he believes that his son's health began deteriorating specifically after a Red Stripe Premier League game in February 2017, where he scored a header against Tivoli Gardens.

"Last year, during the 2016-2017 Premier League season, the day of training before matches, he would pick up some niggling injuries," he said.

"That was affecting his recovery. Even his debut match against Tivoli (Gardens) at the National Stadium, where he scored that looping header, shortly after he had to come off, and from there, it wasn't the same anymore."

Luton Sr, who was also a footballer in his youth, feels hard-done-by, watching his son's condition worsen.

"Luton's passion is football. He's from a family passionate about it just the same. It's a hurtful feeling to see in itself what is happening. This is no fault of his. How it came up is not because of a habit or anything like that. I saw Cobra (late national footballer and former Harbour View FC player Barrington Gaynor, who died from ALS) many times, and I remember he had the same fate - couldn't talk, the speech was slurred and ... ," he said before choking up.