Patient stories

How former NHL player Mark Kirton is using his ALS diagnosis to make a difference

mark sits at a computer

When former National Hockey League player Mark Kirton was diagnosed with ALS in 2018, he figured he had two options: “I could go and hide in a corner or come out battling.”

It took him about five seconds, he says, to decide he wanted to use his diagnosis to make a difference. But he also knew he couldn’t wage the battle alone.

During ALS Awareness Month last June, Mark rallied the support of his former NHL teammates and members of the sport media community. Thirty-three hockey greats, including former Toronto Maple Leaf captains Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Darryl Sittler and Rick Vaive, each recorded a video message on Twitter encouraging people to take a stand in support of ALS research and care.

Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean even waved a “Help Kirts End ALS” t-shirt during Game 7 of the televised playoff match between Toronto and the Montreal Canadiens. “The reach was enormous,” Mark remembers.

So was the support. In just two months, Mark and “Team Kirts” raised more than $100,000 for Sunnybrook and the ALS Society of Canada. At Sunnybrook, the funds are helping to advance the groundbreaking research of Dr. Lorne Zinman, Mark’s doctor and director of Sunnybrook’s ALS Clinic. Among many projects, Dr. Zinman is preparing to launch a world-first clinical trial testing the effectiveness of focused ultrasound in the delivery of a promising ALS therapeutic. The non-surgical technique has been shown to safely and temporarily open the blood-brain barrier, the cluster of cells that protects the brain from dangerous substances while also denying potential therapies access.

Knowing he has Dr. Zinman, so many friends and his beloved family – who Mark says are “my everyday heroes and have become the extension of me as I have weakened” – on his team only makes the husband and father of three want to fight even harder to change the course of the disease.

“I’m going to keep pushing,” Mark says. “Team Kirts isn’t done yet. We’re not done until there’s a breakthrough.”

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Sunnybrook Foundation

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