At the age of 21, he was only given a few years to live after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. But as Stephen Hawking celebrates his 75th birthday, he serves as proof that one can enjoy great success and live a long, fruitful life despite the debilitating effects of ALS.
Born on January 8, 1942, Stephen Hawking was an achiever from a young age, having been accepted at University College, Oxford in 1959, and moving on to graduate studies at Trinity Hall, Cambridge in 1962. But it was during his last year at Oxford when young Stephen began showing the first signs of ALS; an archived piece from Tapping Technology quoted Hawking as saying he became unusually clumsy at that time.
“It wasn’t until my third year at Oxford, however, I noticed that I seemed to be getting more clumsy, and I fell over once or twice for no apparent reason.”
By 1963, the signs were too obvious to ignore, and Hawking was given what had seemed at the time to be an imminent death sentence – only two to five more years to live. According to the ALS Association website, about 50 percent of sufferers live three years or more after diagnosis. About a fifth live five years or more, while about 10 percent live more than a decade.
More than five decades later, Stephen Hawking is celebrating his 75th birthday and a lifetime of lofty achievements. He’s received multiple honorary degrees, held the Lucasian Professor chair at Cambridge from 1979 to 2009, and written the bestselling book A Brief History of Time, as well as other acclaimed titles. He’s even done his share of television guestings, including appearances on Star Trek: The Next Generation,The Simpsons, and Big Bang Theory.
Social media has been abuzz with well wishes for Stephen Hawking on his birthday. Earlier today, NASA briefly stated in a tweet that Hawking “changed how we see the universe,” and “explains (the) need for space exploration.” According to Mashable, a group of amateur scientists known as Near Space Education and Research (NEAR) launched a balloon into the stratosphere, with the balloons carrying a sign wishing Hawking a happy birthday. A video of the balloon launch can be seen below.
Happy Birthday from Kennedy Space Center to one of the most brilliant minds of our time, Stephen Hawking! Stephen turns the big 75 today. pic.twitter.com/OQ4i8W0zHX— NASA Kennedy / KSC (@NASAKennedy) January 8, 2017
In recent years, Stephen Hawking has remained as quotable as ever, speaking through a special device and delivering fascinating insights into a number of topics. In November 2016, Newsweek quoted Hawking as saying humanity might not survive another 1,000 years, with climate change and the threat of artificial intelligence compromising the future of mankind.
“Although the chance of disaster to planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, and becomes a near certainty in the next 1,000 or 10,000 years. By that time, we should have spread out into space and to other stars, so a disaster on Earth would not mean the end of the human race.”
Aside from Stephen Hawking, there are other prominent ALS survivors who have beaten the odds and lived productive lives post-diagnosis. Onetime guitar prodigy Jason Becker was still in his teens when he and future Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman released an album as the duo Cacophony, and was 21-years-old when diagnosed with ALS. Now 47-years-old and unable to speak, walk, or play guitar, he was able to record three new songs for a 2008 album, and, according to a 2012 article from the East Bay Times, he still composes music through special software.
Former NFL safety Steve Gleason, 39, is another ALS survivor of note, having been diagnosed in 2011 and stood out since then as an advocate for ALS awareness. In September, NOLA wrote about how Gleason’s advocacy had allowed him to meet with movers and shakers in multiple fields, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, rock icons Pearl Jam, and other prominent personalities. A documentary simply entitled Gleason, detailing his five years to date with ALS, premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
Considering all he’s done in the world of science, as well as his continued efforts to raise awareness for ALS, we wish only the best for Stephen Hawking on his 75th birthday.
[Featured Image by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images]