ALS THE DISEASE
"...I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for." Those are the words spoken by New York Yankees superstar Lou Gehrig on July 4, 1939, when he announced his retirement from baseball to 62,000 fans. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis ended his record breaking career which spanned 13 years and took his life two years later at age 38.
ALS begins with irregular limb weakness, body-wide tremors (fasciculations) and/or speech difficulty. Eventually, sometimes within months, ALS patients lose the ability to move, breathe, eat, drink and speak. Life can sometimes be prolonged through the use of a feeding tube and respirator. ALS sentences its victims to what is called “life in a glass coffin” and death within 2 to 4 years.
While Lou Gehrig may be the most famous victim of ALS, the disease has taken the lives of other notable and courageous individuals. Hall of Fame pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Senator Jacob Javits, actors Michael Zaslow and David Niven, creator of Sesame Street Jon Stone, boxing champion Ezzard Charles, NBA Hall of Fame basketball player George Yardley, pro football player Glenn Montgomery, golfer Jeff Julian, golf caddie Bruce Edwards, British soccer player Jimmy Johnstone, musician Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter), photographer Eddie Adams, entertainer Dennis Day, jazz musician Charles Mingus, composer Dimitri Shostakovich, and U.S. Army General Maxwell Taylor.
ALS strikes without warning – anyone, anywhere, anytime. Fifteen new cases are diagnosed each day in the United States alone, the same as are diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. But ALS patients die usually within two to four years. This rapidly progressive, fatal neuromuscular disease attacks motor neurons in the spinal cord and brain, robbing its victims of all voluntary muscles.
There is no known cure for ALS at this time. But there is hope.