Irish American hero Pat Quinn fought for an ALS cure until his death in 2020 at 37 from the disease, but the co-founder of the Ice Bucket Challenge will never be forgotten. Empire City Casino in his Yonkers hometown hosted a challenge on Sunday, and Quinn’s father Pat spoke to the Irish Voice about his son’s legacy.
In 2014 America and, indeed, the world was captivated by the Ice Bucket Challenge, a great cause in which participants had buckets of water and ice dumped over their heads to raise much-needed funds for research into ALS, the deadly neuroskeletal disease for which there is no cure.
Celebrities, politicians, sports heroes, influencers and everyday people videoed themselves taking up the challenge, which quickly went viral and wound up raising a whopping $115 million for ALS research. Eight years and significant medical advances later, the Ice Bucket Challenge has cooled in terms of global popularity, but its legacy very much lives on in Yonkers, the hometown of the initiative’s co-founder and forever hero, Pat Quinn.
On Sunday, Empire City Casino in Yonkers hosted its annual Ice Bucket Challenge with more than 350 participants waiting to get dunked with five-gallon buckets of freezing water, including New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and a slew of local politicians and supporters who are determined to keep Quinn’s mantra of “every August until a cure” alive.
Pat Quinn passed away in November of 2020 at the age of 37. No one feels the loss more than his father, Patrick Quinn Senior, born and partly raised in Co. Armagh and the caretaker of his heroic son’s memory.
Pat Junior lived with ALS for more than seven years and struggled mightily, but was determined to promote research and offer inspiration to those similarly suffering. His dad is now living in his son’s huge footsteps.
“I promised Pat many times over, especially in his last few months, that I wouldn’t stop until something positive happens for the patients who are living with ALS. I live up to that promise 100 percent every single day,” Quinn told the Irish Voice during a Monday interview.
After he was diagnosed with ALS in 2012, Pat Junior dedicated his life to promoting a hoped-for cure. The 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge was a “global phenomenon,” his father correctly notes, and ALS researchers credit the initiative and the money it raised to a huge advancement in research for what is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Why did Quinn’s namesake choose to be a game changer in the face of a deathly diagnosis?
“Pat and I were very close and we had some unbelievable emotional conversations. He said to me, ‘Dad, I could be like every other ALS patient out there and sit around, but what good is that?’ So he refused to do nothing,” Quinn recalls.
With the unprecedented success of the 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge, Pat Junior fretted about a future loss of momentum.
“He was worried that if we didn’t continue spreading the word about ALS that we would go back to pre-2014 when not too many people knew about the disease and how bad it is. So it is very important for us to keep raising awareness and keep ALS in the public eye,” says Quinn.
Father and son stayed on their journey, and Pat Senior continues to this day. Sunday’s event at Empire City was an annual homecoming – the casino has hosted a challenge every summer since 2015, except for Covid in 2020. Empire City foots most of the costs, including 1,300 pounds of ice.
“I think it’s a reminder that we are here and we are alive. So many of our ALS angels are no longer with us. It’s a blessing to be a part of this,” said Taryn Duffy, vice president of public affairs at MGM Resorts Northeast Group which owns and operates Empire City.
“Empire City is so honored to host the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge year after year to be part of the continuing legacy of ALS champion Pat Quinn in generating more awareness of this debilitating disease and the importance for research funding,” said Ed Domingo, Empire City senior vice president and general manager. “This is an incredible community that we are proud to be a part of and continue to support in hopes of one day finding a cure.”
The foundation started by Pat Junior, Quinn for the Win, continues to host a number of events that support ALS families in need. Pat Senior has kept the momentum going on a grassroots level through an annual golf tournament, basketball and darts events and other fundraisers.
“I never wanted anyone to say, well, Pat is not with us anymore, so what are we doing? Last year I put out a notice on Facebook, and through our events we raised $89,000 which we were able to distribute to ALS patients and caregivers in our area in need,” Quinn says.
The funds – an equal amount will hopefully be on hand at the end of 2022 – have proven vital with grants large and small that Quinn and his wife distribute to struggling ALS patients and their support systems. Caregivers have been given stipends for a couple of hours at a beauty salon to relax and recharge; another family whose carer was overwhelmed had a replacement minder funded for a week through the foundation. A family in Connecticut with an ALS member has a new handicapped accessible bathroom, at a cost of $28,000, thanks to Quinn for the Win.
The wife of an ALS patient in Yonkers contacted Quinn about a mucus condition afflicting her husband, who was afraid to sleep because he thought he would choke to death. Pat Junior suffered with a similar problem that Quinn had a remedy for and some needed funds.
“I gave Pat Mucinex and liquid Tylenol that took the pain away from his throat and allowed the mucus to slide down. And that worked for the family who contacted me. So every two weeks I bring them six bottles of Mucinex and six bottles of Tylenol,” Quinn says.
“It doesn’t seem like much, but even over-the-counter medicines are expensive and rising in price. The government needs to think about monthly stipends for these things.”
It’s been a tough time for Quinn since Pat passed in November of 2022. He was his son’s primary caregiver and felt the loss, particularly after Pat’s first anniversary in November of 2021.
“The first year was a blur, so many things happening, but it’s been very hard since. It’s a major void in my life, him not being here. So many memories, but continuing his ALS activism means the world to me,” said Quinn, who noted how proud his son was of being an Irish American.
“His roots meant everything to him. He loved Ireland and his heritage and all that came with it,” Quinn says.
“I look up at the sky every now and again and ask Pat if I’m doing the right thing. And if I’m not, I tell him to let the rain come down right now. So far, we are good.”