CHARLOTTE, NC, April 8, 2018 – Other than Lou Gehrig, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is perhaps the only other well-known person to die of ALS.
Certainly, he is the most recent.
But Hawking and Gehrig had something else in common other than the debilitating disease that took their lives. Gehrig, known affectionately as “The Iron Horse”, established the record for consecutive baseball games ever played before Cal Ripken surpassed him.
Hawking also had a longevity mark by surviving more than 5 decades with ALS.
Stephen Hawking and Lou Gehrig’s Disease
Hawking was a promising doctoral candidate at Cambridge University in 1963 when he was confronted with a curious bout of clumsiness.
After falling down a flight of stairs, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and given an estimated two years to live.
On March 14th of this year, Stephen Hawking passed away at the age of 76. Fifty-five years after his ALS diagnosis.
Though Lou Gehrig’s disease has been studied closely for the past eight decades, there is still much to learn about the disease. Among the most difficult things for medical scholars to determine is the indiscriminate ways in which ALS attacks its victims.
Each patient seems has their own set of parameters which makes treatment considerably more difficult.
ALS does not discriminate.
Though it commonly occurs between the ages of 50 and 70, it can strike, as it did with Hawking when he was 23 and Gehrig while in his 30’s.
On the other hand, there are a few statistics which have arisen that do provide some insights;
ALS is 20 percent more common in men than in women, and 93 percent of its victims are Caucasian.
Approximately six out of every 100,000 people are stricken with the condition. If you play the lottery, get an ALS patient to buy your ticket.
In general, ALS patients are given between two to five years of survival with more than 6,000 Americans diagnosed each year, an average of about one every 90 minutes.
No crippling disease in the 21st century is inexpensive, and the estimated annual cost for an ALS patient can be as high as $200,000 a year.
ALS patients gradually lose functionality in their nervous systems as nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord degenerate. Eventually, this can lead to life-threatening infections, heart attacks or heart failure, blood clots or breathing problems.
Approximately 20 percent of ALS patients live more than five years after diagnosis while roughly 10 percent live over 10 years.
ALS and athletes
In recent years, an unusual number of athletes have become victims of ALS. Currently, the National Football League concussion rate has been under a medical microscope for several seasons. The NFL has undertaken extensive studies to learn more about the disease.
Comparisons of 12 professional athletes who died from ALS with 12 other victims showed that abnormalities in the brains and spinal cords of the two groups mirrored each other.
According to researchers, protein aberrations found in patients with brain injuries and those with neurodegenerative disease, like ALS, may have a link to athletic trauma.
Another research project has found that Italian soccer players who suffered multiple head injuries had 11 times the potential for ALS as others. Also at high risk are those who served in the military.
Not all ALS news is negative
Though physically cruel and debilitating, it does not affect the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Even better is that it does not affect a person’s mental awareness or intelligence.
In fact, some researchers believe that one of the secrets to the longevity of Stephen Hawking was his ability to continue to use his brain productively.
While visiting the CERN laboratory in Switzerland in 1985, Hawking was stricken with severe pneumonia, a common hazard for ALS victims. So ill was Hawking during the trip, that his doctors recommended pulling the life support system, which his wife refused to do. Instead, the medical team redoubled their efforts by using a tracheotomy and round the clock care.
Hawking eventually survived to live 33 more years.
ALS – a highly personalized disease
According to European research teams, ALS patients tend to live longer when they receive treatments geared specifically to ALS sufferers. While the disease strikes each individual differently, personal monitoring with technology are making gradual progress in fighting the disease.
In Hawking’s case, mental activity did increase his lifespan. He was also able to communicate using a speech-generating device by using a single cheek muscle.
Other devices are able to incorporate eye-movement on a computer keyboard in order to write.
In an odd way, I have written about women who have the ability to speak only with their eyes. Perhaps ALS researchers would do well to study those skills as well. After all, quite possibly that was the inspiration for the poem:
“Speak (Drink) to me only with thine eyes, And I will plead with mine.”
Or perhaps it could be the origin of the expression “the eyes have it.”
It would certainly have given Stephan Hawking something else to think about.
Lead Image Courtesy: By Jim Campbell/Aero-News Network – https://www.flickr.com/photos/39735679@N00/475109138/ / http://mediaarchive.ksc.nasa.gov/detail.cfm?mediaid=31873, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3655144
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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