Stephen Hawking's Ongoing Battle With ALS

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British physicist Stephen Hawking is all smiles after his flight at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral
IN PHOTO: British physicist Stephen Hawking is all smiles after his flight at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida April 26, 2007. Hawking took a flight on Thursday that gave the renowned scientist, who is confined to a wheelchair, a taste of the weightlessness of space. REUTERS/Charles W Luzier

Stephen Hawking, the most renowned living physicist in the world, has been suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis(ALS) in 1963, when he was 21 years old. Since then he has been fighting a constant battle with the disease, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Hawking, on April 20, 2009, was told by his doctors that he was on the cusp of death. The doctors had foretold the event for ages and he was described to be "very ill." Articles, which were obituary in nature, were run in newspapers as well. But Hawking, currently 73 years old, survived. 

Hawking has survived the disease for more than 40 years and a few experts have said that it might not be ALS given the ease with which he was handling the disease. Other experts said that they had not seen anyone like Hawking with his great capacity of survival. 

A professor of clinical neurology at King's College London, Nigel Leigh, said that Hawking was exceptional. He said that he was not aware of anyone else who had survived with ALS for so long. He added that what was unusual was not the length of time but that ALS seemed to have burnt out. He explained that Hawking appeared to be relatively stable and that kind of stability was rare. 

 The early symptoms of ALS are usually muscle weakness in the arms, legs and difficulty in speech , reported ALS Association. In the advanced stages of the disease, the patient experiences shortness of breath as well as difficulty in swallowing and breathing. The Web site also mentioned that the average lifespan of an ALS patient was between two and five years. It said that only 20 percent made it past the five year mark and less than 5 percent survived for more than two decades and Hawking was one of the 5 percent, having survived it for a span of 52 years. 

Hawking, in 2011, told the New York Times that he had been lucky to have the best medical care and a job that engaged his mind. He added that he perhaps just had a rare form of the disease and that his variety of the disease could be due to the bad absorption of vitamins. 

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