Today, (8 January) is Stephen Hawking’s 76th birthday – he’s lived for 50 years longer than doctors originally predicted.
The greatest mind of our generation defied medical opinion, despite suffering from a form motor neurone disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
When the theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author was diagnosed in 1963, doctors gave him just two years to live.
Here is the trailer for the 2014 film about Hawking…
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The disease kills most of its victims within the first five years, but he’s defied all odds and continued to live.
In 1985 his then-wife refused doctors’ query of whether to turn off his life support machine when he was struck down with pneumonia.
Hawking was in a drug-induced coma in a Geneva hospital at the time and in the 2013 documentary Hawking, he said:
The doctors thought I was so far gone, they offered Jane to turn off the machine. Jane refused to turn it off. She insisted I be flown back to Cambridge.
The weeks of intensive care which followed were the darkest of my life, because every day could be my last.
I have a desire to make the most of every single minute.
The disease has left him unable to speak and in need of constant care, but this hasn’t prevented him from continuing his incredible work in science.
In 1988, he released his book A Brief History of Time, which has since sold 10 million copies – he continues to give speeches and lectures.
As well as being a revolutionary in the science world, Hawking has become a disabled role model, speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
Leo McCluskey, an associate professor of neurology and medical director of the ALS Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, told Scientific American:
One thing that is highlighted by this man’s course is that this is an incredibly variable disorder in many ways. On average people live two to three years after diagnosis.
But that means that half the people live longer, and there are people who live for a long, long time.
Life expectancy turns on two things: the motor neurons running the diaphragm—the breathing muscles.
So the common way people die is of respiratory failure.
And the other thing is the deterioration of swallowing muscles, and that can lead to malnutrition and dehydration.
If you don’t have these two things, you could potentially live for a long time—even though you’re getting worse. What’s happened to him is just astounding. He’s certainly an outlier.
Hawking’s case is an exception to the rule when it comes to this disease.
He wasn’t expected to see his 25th birthday, let alone his 76th.
The ALS Association aims to discover treatments and a cure for ALS and to serve, advocate for and empower, people affected by ALS to live their lives to the fullest. You can donate here.