Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) affects the neurons that control the movements of our body
The brilliant mind of Stephen Hawking was locked in his body, which had been consumed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS is a neurodegenerative disease, which means, it affects the neurons of our brain.
Specifically, it affects the motor neurons, the ones responsible for transmitting orders from the brain to the muscles. That is why those affected by ALS lose mobility in their body.
ALS usually affects adults between 40 and 70 years of age. However, the disease can also appear in much younger people: this is the case of Hawking, who was diagnosed with ALS when he was just 21 years old.
This disease evolves very fast, so the life expectancy of those affected is of only a few years, but Hawking’s case was exceptional: the doctors gave him two years but he lived 55 years longer.
A los 21 años, Stephen Hawking fue diagnosticado de ELA. Le dieron una esperanza de vida de 2 años. Hoy ha fallecido, a los 76, tras convertirse en uno de los científicos más brillantes de la historia y el divulgador que acercó al gran público los grandes secretos del universo. pic.twitter.com/Mmc4ACGQgE
— PabloMM (@PabloMM) March 14, 2018
For much of his life, Stephen Hawking depended on a wheelchair, could not use his hands or move his mouth to talk or eat. In recent years he also needed a mechanical ventilation device to breathe, because his lungs could not function alone.
Hawking only maintained mobility of his eyes and one of his cheeks, thanks to which he could control his wheelchair and the computer with which he communicated.
Still an unknown disease
In 2014, a worldwide campaign to raise funds for ALS research emerged: called the famous Ice Bucket Challenge, a challenge in which participants threw a bucket of ice water over them to experience what people suffering from ALS feel when they have their body paralyzed.
Although in recent years progress has been made and new drugs have been discovered to reduce its effects, very little is known about the causes of this disease and how it can be cured.
ALS affects different aspects of our physiology: movement, breathing, speech, the ability to eat … Which is why full treatment is required with different specialists such as neurologists, physiotherapists, pulmonologists, speech therapists or dieticians.
Stephen Hawking was lucky enough to have a team of doctors and nurses who treated all the symptoms of the disease. Those cares helped a great deal in lengthening his life more than what was expected.
But it was also his natural curiosity, his desire to know more and more and to explore the universe without thinking about its limitations. As he once said: “I’m not afraid of death, but I’m not in a hurry to die. There is so much I want to do first”.