Stephen Hawking, the world-famous English scientist has died today at the age of 76. His family confirmed his death on Wednesday morning through an official statement.
The modern-day science genius believed that he was destined to study about the cosmos so all his life, he worked to uncover its secrets and did his best to expose it to the world.
“My goal is simple. It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”
As mentioned in The Guardian, Hawking was diagnosed with a terminal disease known as ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis when he was 21. It is a crippling ailment where the nerves controlling the muscles are shutting down. With his diagnosis, doctors gave him just about a few years to live but Stephen Hawking beat the odds and miraculously lived with the disease for more than five decades.
Although his ALS progressed slowly, it eventually paralyzed his body after suffering from it for many years. He was left with multiple disabilities including the inability to speak clearly, but these setbacks did not deter him from continuing his works in the field of science.
“I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things it prevents me from doing, which are not that many,” Hawking once said when asked how he feels about having ALS.
Likewise, the University of Cambridge professor and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the U.S. was in the wheelchair most of his life and was only able to communicate with the help of a speech-generating computer that was attached to his cheek. Despite his condition, he went on to become the greatest scientist of this era, the one who was recognized for his exceptional contributions to cosmology.
ALS: A Closer Look at the Disease
What kind of ailment paralyzed Stephen Hawking? ALS is a type of motor neuron disease (MND) that can leave a person immobile because the nerves controlling the voluntary movement had stopped working properly.
MND can leave patients a paraplegic or quadriplegic, and as the disease progresses, they lose their capability to walk, eat, and even talk. Then again, sufferers may not be able to move but their minds and feelings will remain intact.
The disease that crippled Stephen Hawking is quite rare. In fact, in the U.K., only about 5,000 people are currently suffering from it. However, it is deadly and affected individuals can die within the first few years after diagnosis.
As posted on National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, ALS has no cure and treatment to stop or reverse the progression of the disease is not available either.
How ALS Disables Patients
The upper and lower motor neurons of the affected person deteriorate and eventually die. When this happens, the cells will stop sending messages to the muscles so they will not function as they should anymore.
Over time, the muscles will weaken due to lack of movement and convulsions will occur. As the muscles waste away, the brain then loses its power to instruct and command voluntary movements.
Finally, stiffness and muscle weakness are early indications of ALS and although the disease usually develops from the age of 55, it can afflict anyone at any age.