World-renowned British physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, died in the early hours of 14th March 2018. Hawking was known for his famous theory on the black hole and relativity. He had been suffering from ALS(Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The news has left the world of physics in mourning as he was consider by many the greatest scientist of the age.
What is ALS ?
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, is a motor-neuron disease. Each muscle in the brain is controlled by motor neurons in the frontal lobe. Motor neurons are located in three areas of the nervous system – the frontal lobe, the lower brain, and the spine. The motor neurons in the brain are called the upper motor neurons and the ones in the spine are known as the lower motor neurons. ALS typically leads to the weakening of either of these motor neurons or both together.
ALS has variations in which the condition of the patient could be affected in drastic ways. Mostly, those who are diagnosed with ALS live up to 2-5 years. However, Hawking was a rare case who lived over 50 years since he was diagnosed with ALS at the young age of 21.
With Stephen Hawking living for a greater part of the century and coming up with elaborate researches such as that of the black hole, it only defines the variability of this disease. One variable of this is gradual dysfunctioning of all the body parts, since everything is connected to the brain.
There are two ways in which patients suffering from ALS can possibly die: Respiratory failure and deterioration of swallowing muscles which can lead to dehydration and malnutrition. Hawking surviving this long is still a mystery for many doctors and scientists. This is especially because his ability to grasp and learn, as per Hawking in his biography ‘A Brief History of Time’, became better only after his disease.
The disease was so crippling that it left him on a wheelchair and paralyzed. This also paralyzed his ability to do anything normal, such as bathing, eating, and even talking. He was only able to move a few fingers, however, the genius that he had been, he started using a speech synthesizer that gave him a computerized voice which had an American accent.
Also, doctors say that in Hawking, the disease spread slower than it does usually, giving the man about half a century to survive. Hawking himself said, “I have been lucky that my condition has progressed more slowly than is often the case. But it shows that one need not lose hope.”
Was it a wrong diagnosis ?
There are numerous theories which say that Hawking was wrongly diagnosed. As per many researchers, Hawking could have had an adult onset of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. It is a disorder which is similar to a motor neuron diseasebut the chances of survival and prognosis are greater in this.