Beloved physicist Stephen Hawking passed away early Wednesday morning. He was 76 years old. Hawking long suffered from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), aka, “Lou Gehrig's disease.” He was diagnosed in his early twenties and doctors gave him 3 years to live. The neurological disease affects the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement. And the disease is progressive, meaning the symptoms get worse as time passes. There is no cure and it is known to ravage bodies quickly. So when doctors told Dr. Hawking that he had 3 years to live, that was a pretty fair estimate.
Instead, Dr. Hawking lived with ALS for 55 years even though it reduced his muscle control such that he could only blink his eyes and twitch a finger. He retained his mental faculties and became a giant in his field. How did Stephen Hawking live so long with ALS? According to King’s College clinical neurology professor Nigel Leigh, it was probably because D. Hawking was diagnosed so young. In the British Medical Journal Leigh states, “We have found that the survival in younger patients is strikingly better and is measured in many years - in some cases more than 10.”
From my limited understanding of the medical research behind ALS it sounds as if most of those with ALS become symptomatic in their 40’s or later, and then don’t live long. The younger you become symptomatic the longer you can survive. That being said, living 55 years with ALS seems like something of a miracle.
Hey, wasn’t that ice bucket challenge thing all about ALS?
It was! I’m glad you remember. I’m sure many of you recall the ice bucket challenge (IBC) from 2014. A challenge where you pour an icy bucket of water over your head OR you donate money to ALS research OR you do both. It quickly went viral with celebrities piling up to perform their version of the IBC. Patrick Stewart’s was my favorite. The viral challenge was deemed a colossal success and raised $115 million for ALS research. Here is the video of Stephen Hawking and his family participating in the IBC.
Much has been written about Professor Hawking, movies have been made, documentaries have been produced, he’s authored best selling books, he’s been published in many, many science journals and magazines. I will leave it up to you to find them.
ALS ravaged Dr. Hawking’s body but thankfully left his mind intact. And what a great mind it was. Dr. Hawking, I will always remember you, as yourself, on Star Trek: TNG.
Rest in peace.
A few words from his friends and colleges from their twitter accounts:
Dr. Bill Nye (Science Guy):
“While here on Earth, Dr. Hawking made pondering the cosmos and our place within it commonplace. The extraordinary became everyday. Although his time was brief, his work changed the world.”
Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson:
“His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it's not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018.”
Matt Selman, Executive Producer The Simpsons:
“Farewell to Stephen Hawking, the most intelligent guest star in the brief history of The Simpsons.”
Official Big Bang Theory account:
“In loving memory of Stephen Hawking. It was an honor to have him on The #BigBangTheory. Thank you for inspiring us and the world.”