The End Of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series

I hope you have enjoyed reading about “What Is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis? (ALS) Series” and of the Famous People that have or had suffered from (ALS)Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

Sadly, we have come to the end of our “Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Series”. We now begin our “Club Feet or Foot Series” so please enjoy reading.

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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Fokko du Cloux

Fokko du Cloux was born on 20 December, 1954 and died on 10 November, 2006. Fokko du Cloux was a mathematician and computer scientist who worked on the Atlas of Lie groups and representations until his death. One of the founding members of the project, he was responsible for building the Atlas software which was instrumental in the mapping of the E8 Lie Group. The Project successfully managed to map the structure of the E8 group in 2007. Fokko du Cloux was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2005, but he continued to actively participate in the project until his death.

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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Dieter Dengler

Dieter Dengler was born on 22 May, 1938 and died on 7 February, 2001 of ALS, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. An exemplary guard of honor was present at the burial as well as a fly-over by Navy F-14 Tomcats. Dieter was a United States Navy pilot during the Vietnam War. Dieter was 1 of the 2 survivors (the other being Pisidhi Indradat), out of 7, to escape from a Pathet Lao prison camp in Laos. Dieter was rescued after 23 days on the run.

Dieter Dengler grew up in the small town of Wildberg in the Black Forest region of Germany. Dieter was very close to his mother and brothers. Dieter Dengler did not know his father, who was killed while serving in the German army during World War II. Dieter’s grandfather was declared a political enemy of the Nazis for being the only citizen in his town who did not vote for Hitler. Dieter Dengler later credited his grandfather’s resolve as a major inspiration during his time in Laos. Dieter’s grandfather’s steadfastness, despite great danger, was one reason Dieter Dengler refused to sign a document decrying American aggression in Southeast Asia, presented to him by the North Vietnamese after his crash.

Dieter Dengler’s first experience with aircraft came when he was very young and witnessed enemy allied aircraft flying over his town from his bedroom window. From that moment, he wanted to be a pilot. Dieter became an apprentice in a local machine shop, but after seeing an ad in an American magazine expressing a need for pilots, he decided to go to the United States. Although a family friend agreed to sponsor him, he lacked money for passage and came up with a scheme to steal and scrounge brass and other metals to sell.

When he turned 18 and upon completion of his apprenticeship, he hitchiked to Hamburg and set sail for New York City with the dream of becoming a pilot. Dieter lived off the streets of Manhattan for just over a week and eventually found his way to an Air Force recruiter. Dieter was assured that piloting aircraft was what the Air Force was all about, so he enlisted and in June 1957, went to basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. After basic, Dieter Dengler was initially assigned duty as a motor pool mechanic. Dieter’s qualifications as a machinist led to an assignment as a gunsmith. Dieter took and passed the test for aviation cadets, but his enlistment expired before he was selected for pilot training.

After his discharge he joined his brother in a bakery shop near San Francisco and enrolled in San Francisco City College, then transferred to San Mateo College where he studied aeronautics. Upon completion of 2 years of college, he applied for the US Navy aviation cadet program and was accepted. After completion of flight training he went to Corpus Christi, Texas for training as an attack pilot in the Douglas AD Skyraider. Dieter joined VA-145 while the squadron was on shore duty at Alameda, California. In 1965 the squadron joined the carrier USS Ranger. In December the carrier set sail for the coast of Vietnam, stationed initially at Dixie Station off of South Vietnam, then moving north to Yankee Station for operations against North Vietnam.

A Navy AD Skyraider from VA-15 catches a wire during carrier operations. The day after the carrier began flying missions from Yankee Station, Lieutenant, Junior Grade Dieter Dengler launched from Ranger with 3 other aircraft on an interdiction mission against a truck convoy that had been reported in North Vietnam. Thunderstorms forced the flight to divert to their secondary target, a road intersection located west of the Mu Gia Pass in Laos. At the time, U.S. air operations in Laos were classified “secret.” Visibility was poor due to smoke from burning fields, and upon rolling in on the target, Lt. Dengler and the remainder of his flight lost sight of one another. Dieter Dengler was the last man in and was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Dieter managed to crash-land his Skyraider in Laos.

When his squadron mates realised that he had been lost, they remained confident that he would be rescued. Dieter Dengler had a reputation from his experiences at the Navy survival school, where he had escaped from the mock-POW camp run by Marine guards 3 times. Dieter had also set a record as the only student to actually gain weight during the course – his childhood experiences made him unafraid of eating whatever he could find and he had feasted on garbage. Unfortunately, immediately after he was shot down, he smashed his survival radio and hid most of his survival equipment to keep the enemy from finding it. When a rescue helicopter came near the next day, he had no means with which to signal it. Dieter tried not to be seen as much as possible but the day after he was shot down he was spotted by Pathet Lao guerrillas and captured. At the prison camp to which he was taken, he met Duane W. Martin, Eugene DeBruin, Prasit Thanee, Y.C. To, Pisidhi Indradat, and Prasit Promsuwan.

The day after he was shot down, Lt. Dengler was apprehended by Pathet Lao troops. They bound his hands and marched him through the jungle, stopping at various villages along the way. At one point, he escaped and climbed a karst tower in hopes of signaling a passing aircraft. Lack of shelter from the sun and thirst forced him to climb down to seek water, and his captors found him as he was drinking from a spring. In retaliation, they devised various methods to torture him, including hanging him upside down while putting ant nests on his face until he passed out, inserting bamboo shoots under his fingernails and skin, and suspending him in a well.

Dieter Dengler was eventually brought to a prison camp near the village of Par Kung where he met other POWs. The other 6 prisoners were:

Pisidhi Indradat (Thai)
Prasit Promsuwan (Thai)
Prasit Thanee (Thai)
Y.C. To (Chinese)
Duane W. Martin (American)
Eugene DeBruin (American)

Except for Martin, who was an Air Force helicopter pilot who had been shot down in North Vietnam nearly a year before, the other prisoners were civilians employed by Air America, a civilian airline owned by the Central Intelligence Agency. The civilians had been in Pathet Lao hands for over 2 1/2 years when Dieter Dengler joined them. The day he arrived in the camp, Dieter Dengler advised the other prisoners that he intended to escape and invited them to join him. They advised that he wait until the monsoon season when there would be plenty of water. Shortly after Dieter Dengler arrived, the prisoners were moved to a new camp 10 miles away at Hoi Het. After the move, a strong debate ensued among the prisoners, with Dieter Dengler, Martin and Prasit arguing for escape which the other prisoners, particularly Indradat, initially opposed. One of the Thais heard the guards discussing the possibility of shooting them in the jungle and making it look like an escape attempt. With that revelation, everyone agreed and a date to escape was set. Their plan was to take over the camp and signal a C-130 Hercules flareship that made nightly visits to the vicinity. Dieter Dengler loosened logs under the hut that allowed the prisoners to squeeze through. The plan was for him to go out when the guards were eating and seize their weapons and pass them to Indradat and Promsuwan while Martin and DeBruin procured others from other locations.

On 29 June, 1966, while the guards were eating, the group slipped out of their hand and foot restraints and grabbed the guards’ unattended weapons, which included M1 rifles, Chinese automatic rifles, an American carbine and at least one submachinegun. Dieter Dengler went out first followed by 2 of the Thais. Dieter went to the guard hut and seized an M1 for himself, and passed 2 Chinese automatic rifles to the Thais. The guards realised the prisoners had escaped and 5 of them rushed toward Dieter Dengler, who shot at least 3 with the M1. One of the Thais shot a popular guard in the leg. 2 others ran off, presumably to get help, although at least 1 had been wounded. The 7 prisoners split into 3 groups. DeBruin was originally supposed to go with Dieter Dengler and Martin but decided to go with To, who was recovering from a fever and unable to keep up. They intended to get over the nearest bridge and wait for rescue. Dieter Dengler and Martin went off by themselves with the intention of heading for the Mekong River to escape to Thailand, but they never got more than a few miles from the camp from which they had escaped.

With the exception of Indradat, who was recaptured and later rescued by Laotian troops, none of the other prisoners were ever seen again. DeBruin was reportedly captured and placed in another camp, then disappeared in 1968.

Dieter Dengler and Martin found themselves in a jungle filled with leeches, insects and other creatures that made life miserable. They made their way down a creek and found a river, but when they thought they were on their way to the Mekong, they discovered that they had gone around in a circle. They had spotted several villages but had not been detected. They set up camp in an abandoned village where they found shelter from the nearly incessant rain. They had brought rice with them and found other food, but were still on the verge of starvation. Their intent had been to signal a C-130 but at first lacked the energy to build a fire using primitive methods of rubbing bamboo together. Dieter Dengler finally managed to locate carbine cartridges that Martin had thrown away and used the powder from them to enhance the tinder, and got a fire going. That night they lit torches and waved them in the shape of an S and O when a C-130 came over. The airplane circled and dropped a couple of flares and they were overjoyed, believing they had been spotted. They woke up the next morning to find the landscape covered by fog and drizzle, but when it lifted, no rescue force appeared.

The following day, they were demoralised after a rescue force did not appear in response to their signal of the C-130 flareship. Martin who was weak from starvation and was suffering from malaria, wanted to approach a nearby Akha village to steal some food. Dieter Dengler knew it was not a good idea, but refused to let his friend go near the village alone. They saw a little boy playing with a dog, and the child ran into the village calling out “Amelican!” Within seconds a villager appeared and they knelt down on the trail in supplication, but the man swung his machete and struck Martin in the leg. The man swung again and hit him behind the neck, killing him. Dieter Dengler jumped to his feet and rushed toward the villager, who turned and ran into the village to get help. Dieter Dengler managed to evade the searchers who went out after him and escaped back into the jungle. Dieter returned to an abandoned village where the had been spending their time and where he and Martin had signaled a C-130. That night when a C-130 flareship came over, Dieter Dengler set fire to the huts and burned the village down. The C-130 crew spotted the fires and dropped flares, but even though the crew reported their sighting when they returned to their base at Ubon, Thailand, the fires were not recognised by intelligence as having been a signal from a survivor. When a rescue force again failed to materialise, Dieter Dengler decided to find 1 of the parachutes from a flare for use as a possible signal. Dieter found 1 on a bush and placed it in his rucksack. On 20 July, 1966, after 23 days in the jungle, Dieter Dengler managed to signal an Air Force pilot with the parachute. A 2-ship flight of Air Force Skyraiders from the 1st Air Commando Group happened to fly up the river where Dieter Dengler was. Eugene Peyton Deatrick, the pilot of the lead plane and the squadron commander, spotted a flash of white while making a turn at the river’s bend and came back and spotted a man waving something white. Peyton Deatrick and his wingman contacted rescue forces but were told to ignore the sighting, as no airmen were known to be down in the area. Peyton Deatrick persevered and eventually managed to convince the command and control center to dispatch a rescue force. Fearing that Dieter Dengler might be a Viet Cong soldier, the helicopter crew restrained him when he was brought aboard.

According to the documentary, “Little Dieter Needs to Fly”, Dieter Dengler said one of the flight crew who was holding him down pulled out a 1/2 eaten snake from underneath Dieter Dengler’s clothing and was so surprised he nearly fell out of the helicopter. The person who threw Dieter Dengler to the floor of the helicopter was Air Force Pararescue specialist Michael Leonard from Lawler, Iowa. Leonard stripped Dieter Dengler of his clothes, making sure he was not armed or in possession of a hand grenade. When questioned, Dieter Dengler told Leonard that he escaped from a North Vietnamese Prisoner of War camp 2 months earlier. Peyton Deatrick radioed the rescue helicopter crew to see if they could identify the person they had just hoisted up from the jungle. They reported that they had a man who claimed to be a downed Navy pilot who flew a Douglas A-1H Skyraider.

It wasn’t until after he reached the hospital at Da Nang that Dieter Dengler’s identity was confirmed. A conflict between the Air Force and the Navy developed over who should control his interrogation and recovery. In an apparent attempt to prevent the Air Force from embarrassing them in some way, the Navy sent a team of SEALS into the hospital to literally steal Dieter Dengler. Dieter was brought out of the hospital in a covered gurney and rushed to the air field, where he was placed aboard a Navy carrier delivery transport and flown to Ranger where a welcoming party had been prepared. Deprivation from malnutrition and parasites caused the Navy doctors to order that he be airlifted to the United States.

Dieter Dengler remained in the Navy for a year, and was trained to fly jets. When his military obligation was satisfied, he resigned from the Navy and applied for a position as an airline pilot with Trans World Airlines. Dieter continued flying and survived 4 subsequent crashes as a civilian test pilot.

In 1977, during a time when he was furloughed from TWA, Dieter Dengler returned to Laos and was greeted as a celebrity by the Pathet Lao. Dieter was taken to the camp from which he had escaped and was surprised to discover that at one point he and Martin had been within a mile and a half of it. Dieter’s fascination with airplanes and aviation continued for the remainder of his life. Dieter continued flying almost up until his death, as a pilot for TWA until his retirement at age 59, then privately. In 2000, Dieter Dengler was inducted into the Gathering of Eagles programme and told the story of his escape to groups of young military officers. During his life, Dieter Dengler had 3 wives, Marina Adamich (1966 – March 1970), Irene Lam (11 September, 1980 – 3 April, 1984), Yukiko Dengler (until his death). Dieter Dengler is also survived by 2 sons: Rolf and Alexander Dengler, and 1 grandchild.

Military Honours:
Dieter Dengler is a recipient of the following medals:

Navy Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross
Purple Heart
Air Medal
Prisoner of War Medal (retroactive)

Dieter Dengler was the subject of Werner Herzog’s 1997 documentary “Little Dieter Needs to Fly”. Herzog went on to direct a dramatised version of the story, “Rescue Dawn”, which stars Christian Bale as Dieter Dengler. The film was shown at festivals throughout the end of 2006 and received a limited theatrical release in the USA on 4 July, 2007 before a general release later that month. The film was released as a DVD in November 2007.

The movie “Rescue Dawn” was subjected to severe criticism by members of the family of Eugene DeBruin, Dieter Dengler, and Pisidhi Indradat, the other survivor of the group.

Herzog acknowledged that DeBruin acted heroically during his imprisonment, refusing to leave while some sick prisoners remained, but Herzog was unaware of this fact until after the film had been completed. Herzog states that this narrative aspect probably would have been included had he learned it earlier. Family members, however, said that Herzog was uninterested in speaking with them prior to the completion of the movie.

Dieter Dengler documented his experience in the book “Escape From Laos”. Amazon also has a short on the subject.

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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Professor Stephen Hawking

Prof. Stephen Hawking was born on 8 January 1942 (300 years after the death of Galileo) in Oxford, England. Prof. Stephen Hawking parents’ house was in north London, but during the second world war Oxford was considered a safer place to have babies. When he was 8, his family moved to St Albans, a town about 20 miles north of London.

At the age of 11 Prof. Stephen Hawking went to St Albans School, and then on to University College, Oxford, his father’s old college. Prof. Stephen Hawking wanted to do Mathematics, although his father would have preferred medicine. Mathematics was not available at University College, so he did Physics instead. After 3 years and not very much work he was awarded a first class honours degree in Natural Science.

Stephen then went on to Cambridge to do research in Cosmology, there being no-one working in that area in Oxford at the time. Prof. Stephen Hawking’s supervisor was Denis Sciama, although he had hoped to get Fred Hoyle who was working in Cambridge. After gaining his Ph.D. he became first a Research Fellow, and later on a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College.

After leaving the Institute of Astronomy in 1973 Prof. Stephen Hawking came to the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, and since 1979 has held the post of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. The chair was founded in 1663 with money left in the will of the Reverend Henry Lucas, who had been the Member of Parliament for the University. It was first held by Isaac Barrow, and then in 1669 by Isaac Newton.

Prof. Stephen Hawking has worked on the basic laws which govern the universe. With Roger Penrose he showed that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity implied space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. These results indicated it was necessary to unify General Relativity with Quantum Theory, the other great Scientific development of the first half of the 20th Century. One consequence of such a unification that he discovered was that black holes should not be completely black, but should emit radiation and eventually evaporate and disappear. Another conjecture is that the universe has no edge or boundary in imaginary time. This would imply that the way the universe began was completely determined by the laws of science.

Prof. Stephen Hawking’s many publications include: The Large Scale Structure of Spacetime with G F R Ellis, General Relativity: An Einstein Centenary Survey, with W Israel, and 300 Years of Gravity, with W Israel. Prof. Stephen Hawking has 3 popular books published; his best seller A Brief History of Time, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays and most recently in 2001, The Universe in a Nutshell.

There are .pdf and .ps versions of his full publication list. Prof. Stephen Hawking has 12 honorary degrees, was awarded the CBE in 1982, and was made a Companion of Honour in 1989. Prof. Stephen Hawking is the recipient of many awards, medals and prizes and is a Fellow of The Royal Society and a Member of the US National Academy of Sciences.

Prof. Stephen Hawking continues to combine family life (he has three children and one grandchild), and his research into theoretical physics together with an extensive programme of travel and public lectures. Prof. Stephen Hawking suffers from ALS.

What is ALS?

ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a rapidly progressive and fatal neuromuscular disease that is characterized by degeneration of a select group of nerve cells and pathways (motor neurons) in the brain and spinal cord. This loss of motor neurons leads to progressive paralysis of the voluntary muscles. The heart is not a voluntary muscle, and therefore, remains unaffected by the disease. However, since breathing is controlled voluntarily by the chest muscles, death usually occurs when the chest muscles are no longer able to help the lungs achieve adequate oxygenation. Generally, there is little impairment of the brain or the senses.

“Amyotrophic” means:A = absence ofmyo = muscletrophic = nourishmentlateral = side (of spine)sclerosis = hardening or scarring ALS is not contagious, but it is fatal.For the most part, the battle is short, with 80% losing their lives within three to five years of diagnosis. While between 10% and 20% live ten years or more after diagnosis, others live only a few months. While the cause is unknown, research is being conducted in areas relating to genetic predispositions, viral or infectious agents, environmental toxins and immunological changes. For some people, the muscles for speaking, swallowing or breathing are the first to be affected. This is known as bulbar ALS.

The term “bulbar” refers to the motor neurons located in the brain stem, that control the muscles used for chewing, swallowing, and speaking. ALS symptoms, and the order in which they occur, vary from one person to another. In 85% of cases, ALS effects the lower portion of the spinal cord first. This is known as limb onset ALS. In these cases, muscle weakness, cramps and weakened reflexes affects the muscles in the arms and legs as the first signs of ALS. The rate of muscle loss can vary significantly from person to person with some patients having long periods with very slow degeneration. Signs and Symptoms Upper Motor Neuron Degeneration muscle stiffness or rigidity emotional lability (decreased ability to control emotions) excessive fatigue dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) dyspnea (shortness of breath) dysarthria (a speech disorder caused by impairment of the muscles used for speaking) incresed or ‘b risk’ reflexesgait spasticiy Lower Motor Neuron Degeneration muscle weakness and atrophy involuntary contraction of muscle fibres muscle cramps weakened reflexes flaccidity (decreased muscle tone)difficulty swallowing disordered articulation shortness of breath at rest.

Is ALS a Rare Disease?

ALS is not considered a rare disease. Approximately 2,500-3,000 Canadians currently live with ALS. 2 or 3 Canadians lose their battle to this devastating disease every day. In Ontario, roughly 1,000 people have ALS at any one time. “ALS is clearly the most common cause of neurological death on an annual basis,” Dr. Michael Strong, clinician at the University Health Sciences Centre and research scientist at the Robarts Research Institute, London, Ontario.

What Causes ALS?

We don’t really know what causes ALS, but we do know that it can strike any adult at any time. While the usual age at onset is between 45 and 65, people as young as 17 have been diagnosed in the past. Between 5 and 10% of ALS cases are found in the same families, meaning that they are “familial”, and are definitely linked genetically. But for the most part, diagnosis is sporadic and we don’t know how it is caused.

What are the early symptoms?

ALS usually becomes apparent either in the legs, the arms, the throat or the upper chest area. Some people begin to trip and fall, some may notice muscle loss in their hands and arms and some find it hard to swallow and slur their speech. ALS is difficult to diagnose. There is no specific test available that will either rule out or confirm the presence of ALS. Diagnosis is usually made through a ‘diagnosis of exclusions’. Neurologists conduct a number of tests, thereby ruling out other disorders that may cause similar symptoms, such as strokes or multiple sclerosis and if nothing else is positive and yet the symptoms continue to worsen, ALS is often the reason.

What are the effects of ALS?

Because ALS frequently takes its toll before being positively diagnosed, many patients are debilitated before learning they have ALS. The disease usually does not affect the senses – taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing – or the mind. ALS has a devastating effect on patients and their families. As they cope with the prospect of advancing disability and eventually death, it consumes their financial and emotional reserves. It is a costly disease in its later stages, demanding both extensive nursing care and expensive equipment.

What can be done about ALS?

There is no known cure at this time and very little in the way of treatment that will have an effect on the disease itself.

Is there hope for people with ALS?

Research is looking to find not only the cause of the disease so that a cure can be developed but also other medications or treatments that can help until a cure is found. With improved knowledge about ALS, healthcare providers and families can help people living with ALS live life more fully. The services offered by the ALS Society of Ontario help improve the quality of life for those who live with ALS and their families.

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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig Henry Louis “Lou” Gehrig was born on 19 June, 1903 in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, USA and died on 2 June, 1941, at 10:10 p.m., 16 years to the day after he replaced Wally Pipp at first base, Henry Louis Gehrig died at his home at 5204 Delafield Avenue, in the Fieldston section of the Bronx, New York.

Upon hearing the news, Babe Ruth and his wife Claire went to the Gehrig’s house to console Eleanor. Mayor LaGuardia ordered flags in New York to be flown at half-staff, and Major League ballparks around the nation did likewise.

Following the funeral at Christ Episcopal Church of Riverdale, Lou Gehrig’s remains were cremated and interred on 4 June at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York. Lou Gehrig and Ed Barrow are both interred in the same section of Kensico Cemetery, which is next door to Gate of Heaven Cemetery, where the graves of Babe Ruth and Billy Martin are located.

Lou Gehrig’s headstone in Kensico Cemetery (the year of his birth was inscribed erroneously as 1905) Eleanor Gehrig never remarried following her husband’s passing, dedicating the rest of her life to supporting ALS research. Eleanor died on 6 March, 1984, on her 80th birthday. They had no children.

The Yankees dedicated a monument to Lou Gehrig in center field at Yankee Stadium on 6 July, 1941, the shrine lauding him as, “A man, a gentleman and a great ballplayer whose amazing record of 2,130 consecutive games should stand for all time.” Lou Gehrig’s monument joined the one placed there in 1932 to Miller Huggins, which would eventually be followed by Babe Ruth’s in 1949.

Lou Gehrig’s birthplace in Manhattan, 1994 Second Avenue (near E. 103rd Street), is memorialised with a plaque marking the site. Another early residence on E. 94th Street (near Second Avenue) is noted with a plaque. The Gehrigs’ white house at 5204 Delafield Avenue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, where Lou Gehrig died, still stands today on the east side of the Henry Hudson Parkway and is likewise marked by a plaque.

Born Ludwig Heinrich Gehrig was an American baseball player in the 1920s and 1930s, chiefly remembered for his prowess as a hitter and the longevity of his consecutive games played record, which stood for more than a half-century, and the pathos of his tearful farewell from baseball at age 36, when he was stricken with a fatal disease. Popularly called “The Iron Horse” for his durability, Lou Gehrig set several Major League records. Lou Gehrig’s record for most career grand slam home runs (23) still stands as of 2008. Lou Gehrig was voted the greatest first baseman of all time by the Baseball Writers’ Association. Lou Gehrig was the leading vote-getter on the Major League Baseball All-Century Team, chosen by fans in 1999.

Lou Gehrig was a native of New York City, he played for the New York Yankees until his career was cut short by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), now commonly referred to in the United States as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Over a 15-season span between 1925 and 1939, he played in 2,130 consecutive games. The streak ended when Lou Gehrig became disabled with the fatal neuromuscular disease that claimed his life 2 years later. Lou Gehrig’s streak, long believed to be one of baseball’s few unbreakable records, stood for 56 years until finally broken by Cal Ripken, Jr., of the Baltimore Orioles on 6 September, 1995.

Lou Gehrig accumulated 1,995 runs batted in (RBIs) in 17 seasons with a lifetime batting average of .340, a lifetime on-base percentage of .447, and a lifetime slugging percentage of .632. A 7 time All-Star (the first All-Star game was not until 1933; he did not play in the 1939 game, retiring a week before it was held — at Yankee Stadium), he won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award in 1927 and 1936 and was a Triple Crown winner in 1934, leading the American League in batting average, home runs, and RBIs.

Lou Gehrig weighed almost 14 pounds (6.4 kg) at birth, the son of poor German immigrants Heinrich Gehrig and Christina Fack. Lou Gehrig’s father was a sheet metal worker by trade, but frequently unemployed due to ill health, so his mother was the breadwinner and disciplinarian. Both parents considered baseball to be a schoolyard game; his domineering mother steered young Lou Gehrig toward a career in business.

Lou Gehrig went to PS 132 in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan and then to Commerce High School, graduating in 1921. Lou Gehrig then studied at Columbia University for 2 years, although he did not graduate. While attending Columbia, he was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Initially, Lou Gehrig could not play intercollegiate baseball for the Columbia Lions because he had played baseball for a summer professional league during his freshman year. At the time, he was unaware that doing so jeopardised his eligibility to play any collegiate sport. Lou Gehrig was ruled eligible to play on the Lions’ football team and was a standout fullback. Lou Gehrig later gained baseball eligibility and joined the Lions on that squad as well.

Lou Gehrig first garnered national attention for his baseball ability while playing in a game at Cubs Park (now Wrigley Field) on June 26, 1920. Lou Gehrig’s New York School of Commerce team was playing a team from Chicago’s Lane Tech High School, in front of a crowd of more than 10,000 spectators. With his team winning 8-6 in the top of the ninth inning, Lou Gehrig hit a grand slam completely out of the Major League ballpark, an unheard-of feat for a 17-year old high school boy.

Lou Gehrig on the Columbia University baseball team On 18 April, 1923 the same day that Yankee Stadium opened for the first time and Babe Ruth inaugurated the new stadium with a home run, Columbia pitcher Lou Gehrig struck out 17 Williams batters for a team record. However, Columbia lost the game. Only a handful of collegians were at South Field that day, but more significant was the presence of Yankee scout Paul Krichell, who had been trailing Lou Gehrig for some time. It was not Lou Gehrig’s pitching that particularly impressed him. Instead, it was Lou Gehrig’s powerful left-handed hitting. During the time Krichell had been observing the young Columbia ballplayer, Lou Gehrig had hit some of the longest home runs ever seen on various Eastern campuses, including a 450-foot (137 m) home run on 28 April at Columbia’s South Field which landed at 116th Street and Broadway. Within 2 months, Lou Gehrig had signed a Yankee contract.

Lou Gehrig joined the New York Yankees midway through the 1923 season and made his debut on 15 June 1923, as a pinch hitter. In his first 2 seasons, he saw limited playing time, mostly as a pinch hitter — he played in only 23 games and was not on the Yankees’ 1923 World Series roster. In 1925, he batted 437 times for a respectable .295 batting average with 20 home runs and 68 runs batted in (RBIs).

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in exhibition game at West Point, NY (May 6, 1927) The 23 year old Yankee first baseman’s breakout season came in 1926, when he batted .313 with 47 doubles, an American League leading 20 triples, 16 home runs, and 112 RBIs. In the 1926 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Lou Gehrig hit .348 with  2 doubles and 4 RBIs. The Cardinals won a 7 game series, winning 4 games to 3.

In 1927, Lou Gehrig put up one of the greatest seasons by any batter in history. That year, he hit .373, with 218 hits: 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 home runs, 175 runs batted in, and a .765 slugging percentage.

Despite playing in the shadow of the larger-than-life Ruth for 2/3 of his career, Lou Gehrig was one of the highest run producers in baseball history: he had 509 RBIs during a 3 season stretch (1930-32). Only 2 other players, Jimmie Foxx with 507 and Hank Greenberg with 503, have surpassed 500 RBIs in any 3 seasons; their totals were non-consecutive. (Babe Ruth had 498.) Playing 14 complete seasons, Lou Gehrig had 13 consecutive seasons with 100 or better RBIs (a Major League record he shares with Jimmie Foxx). Lou Gehrig had 6 seasons where he batted .350 or better (with a high of .379 in 1930), plus a 7th season at .349. Lou Gehrig had 8 seasons with 150 or more RBIs, 11 seasons with over 100 walks, 8 seasons with 200 or more hits, and 5 seasons with more than 40 home runs. Lou Gehrig led the American League in runs scored 4 times, home runs 3 times, and RBIs 5 times. Lou Gehrig’s 184 RBIs in 1931 is still an American League record as of 2008 and second all-time to Hack Wilson’s 191 RBIs in 1930. 3 of the top 6 RBI seasons in baseball history were Lou Gehrig’s. Lou Gehrig also holds the baseball record for most seasons with 400 total bases or more, accomplishing this feat 5 times in his career.

During the 10 seasons (1925-1934) in which Lou Gehrig and Ruth were both Yankees and played a majority of games, Lou Gehrig had more home runs than Ruth only once, in 1934, when he hit 49 compared to Ruth’s 22 (Ruth played 125 games that year). They tied at 46 in 1931. Ruth had 424 home runs compared to Lou Gehrig’s 347. Lou Gehrig had more RBIs in 7 years (1925, 1927, 1930-1934) and they tied in 1928. Ruth had 1,316 RBIs compared to Lou Gehrig’s 1,436, although the latter had more hits in 8 years (1925, 1927-28, 1930-34) and a higher slugging percentage in 2 years (1933-34). Lou Gehrig also had a higher batting average in 7 years (1925, 1927-28, 1930, 1932-34). For that span, Lou Gehrig had a .343 batting average, compared to .338 for Ruth.

Lou Gehrig and Carl Hubbell on 1936 Time Magazine coverIn 1932, Lou Gehrig became the first player of the 20th century to hit 4 home runs in a single game, accomplishing the feat on 3 June against the Philadelphia Athletics. Lou Gehrig narrowly missed getting a 5th home run in the game when Athletics center fielder Al Simmons made a leaping catch of another Lou Gehrig-hit fly ball at the centerfield fence. After the game, Manager Joe McCarthy told him, “Well, Lou, nobody can take today away from you…” However, on that same day, John McGraw chose to announce his retirement after 30 years of managing the New York Giants, and so McGraw, not Lou Gehrig, got the headlines in the sports sections the next day and Lou Gehrig, as usual, was overshadowed. The following year, in September 1933, Lou Gehrig married Eleanor Twitchell, the daughter of Chicago Parks Commissioner Frank Twitchell.

In a 1936 World Series cover story about Lou Gehrig and Carl Hubbell, Time magazine proclaimed Lou Gehrig “the game’s No. 1 batsman”, who “takes boyish pride in banging a baseball as far, and running around the bases as quickly, as possible”.

On 1 June 1925, Lou Gehrig entered the game as a pinch hitter, substituting for shortstop Paul “Pee Wee” Wanninger. The next day, 2 June, Yankee manager Miller Huggins started Lou Gehrig in place of regular first baseman Wally Pipp. Wally Pipp was in a slump, as were the Yankees as a team, so Miller Huggins made several lineup changes to boost their performance. 14 years later, Lou Gehrig had played 2,130 consecutive games. In a few instances, Lou Gehrig managed to keep the streak intact through pinch hitting appearances and fortuitous timing; in others, the streak continued despite injuries. For example:

On 23 April 1933, an errant pitch by Washington Senators hurler struck Lou Gehrig in the head. Although almost knocked unconscious, Lou Gehrig recovered and remained in the game.

On 14 June 1933, Lou Gehrig was ejected from a game, along with manager Joe McCarthy, but he had already been at bat, so he got credit for playing the game.

On 13 July 1934, Lou Gehrig suffered a “lumbago attack” and had to be assisted off the field. In the next day’s away game, he was listed in the lineup as “shortstop”, batting lead-off. In his first and only plate appearance, he singled and was promptly replaced by a pinch runner to rest his throbbing back, never taking the field. A&E’s Biography speculated that this illness, which he also described as “a cold in his back”, might have been the first symptom of his debilitating disease.

In addition, X-rays taken late in his life disclosed that Lou Gehrig had sustained several fractures during his playing career, although he remained in the lineup despite those previously undisclosed injuries.

Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130 consecutive games played stood until 6 September, 1995, when Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2,131st consecutive game to establish a new record.

Plaque in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Lou Gehrig collapsed in 1939 during spring training At the midpoint of the 1938 season, Lou Gehrig’s performance began to diminish. At the end of that season, he said, “I tired mid season. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t get going again.” Although his final 1938 stats were respectable (.295 batting average, 114 RBIs, 170 hits, .523 slugging percentage, 689 plate appearances with only 75 strikeouts, and 29 home runs), it was a dramatic drop from his 1937 season (when he batted .351 and slugged .643). In the 1938 post-season his batting average was .286 and all 4 of his hits were singles.

When the Yankees began their 1939 spring training in St. Petersburg, Florida, it was obvious that Lou Gehrig no longer possessed his once-formidable power. Even Lou Gehrig’s base running was affected, and at one point he collapsed at Al Lang Field, the Yankees’ spring training park at the time in St. Petersburg. By the end of spring training, Lou Gehrig had not hit even one home run. Throughout his career, Lou Gehrig was considered an excellent runner on the basepaths, but as the 1939 season got underway, his co-ordination and speed had deteriorated significantly.

By the end of April, his statistics were the worst of his career, with just 1 RBI and a .143 batting average. Fans and the press openly speculated on Lou Gehrig’s abrupt decline. James Kahn, a reporter who wrote often about Lou Gehrig, said in one article:

I think there is something wrong with him. Physically wrong, I mean. I don’t know what it is, but I am satisfied that it goes far beyond his ball-playing. I have seen ballplayers ‘go’ overnight, as lou Gehrig seems to have done. But they were simply washed up as ballplayers. It’s something deeper than that in this case, though. I have watched him very closely and this is what I have seen: I have seen him time a ball perfectly, swing on it as hard as he can, meet it squarely — and drive a soft, looping fly over the infield. In other words, for some reason that I do not know, his old power isn’t there… Lou Gehrig is meeting the ball, time after time, and it isn’t going anywhere.

Lou Gehrig was indeed meeting the ball, with only one strikeout in 28 at-bats. But Joe McCarthy found himself resisting pressure from Yankee management to switch Lou Gehrig to a part-time role. Things came to a head when Lou Gehrig had to struggle to make a routine put-out at first base. The pitcher, Johnny Murphy, had to wait for Lou Gehrig to drag himself over to the bag so he could catch Murphy’s throw. Murphy said, “Nice play, Lou.”

On 30 April, Lou Gehrig went hitless against the weak Washington Senators. LouGehrig had just played his 2,130th consecutive Major League game.

On 2 May, the next game after a day off, Lou Gehrig approached Joe McCarthy before the game in Detroit against the Tigers and said, “I’m benching myself, Joe”, telling the Yankees’ skipper that he was doing so “for the good of the team”. Joe McCarthy acquiesced and put Ellsworth “Babe” Dahlgren in at first base, and also said that whenever Gehrig wanted to play again, the position was his. Gehrig himself took the lineup card out to the shocked umpires before the game, ending the 14-year stamina streak. Before the game began, the Briggs Stadium announcer told the fans, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first time Lou Gehrig’s name will not appear on the Yankee lineup in 2,130 consecutive games.” The Detroit Tigers fans gave Lou Gehrig a standing ovation while he sat on the bench with tears in his eyes. Lou Gehrig stayed with the Yankees as team captain for a few more weeks, but he never played baseball again.

As Lou Gehrig’s debilitation became steadily worse, Eleanor called the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Eleanor’s call was transferred to Dr. Charles William Mayo, who had been following Lou Gehrig’s career and his mysterious loss of strength. Dr. Mayo told Eleanor to bring Lou Gehrig as soon as possible.

Eleanor and Lou Gehrig flew to Rochester from Chicago, where the Yankees were playing at the time, arriving at the Mayo Clinic on 13 June, 1939. After 6 days of extensive testing at Mayo Clinic, the diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was confirmed on 19 June, Lou Gehrig’s 36th birthday. The prognosis was grim: rapidly increasing paralysis, difficulty in swallowing and speaking, and a life expectancy of fewer than 3 years, although there would be no impairment of mental functions. Eleanor Gehrig was told that the cause of ALS was unknown but it was painless, non-contagious and cruel — the central nervous system is destroyed but the mind remains fully aware to the end.

Lou Gehrig often wrote letters to Eleanor, and in one such note written shortly afterwards, said (in part):

The bad news is lateral sclerosis, in our language chronic infantile paralysis. There isn’t any cure… there are very few of these cases. It is probably caused by some germ…Never heard of transmitting it to mates… There is a 50-50 chance of keeping me as I am. I may need a cane in 10 or 15 years. Playing is out of the question…

Following Lou Gehrig’s visit to the Mayo Clinic, he briefly rejoined the Yankees in Washington, DC. As his train pulled into Union Station, he was greeted by a group of Boy Scouts, happily waving and wishing him luck. Lou Gehrig waved back, but he leaned forward to his companion, a reporter, and said, “They’re wishing me luck — and I’m dying.”

 On 21 June, the New York Yankees announced Lou Gehrig’s retirement and proclaimed 4 July, 1939, “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day” at Yankee Stadium. Between games of the Independence Day doubleheader against the Washington Senators, the poignant ceremonies were held on the diamond. In its coverage the following day, The New York Times said it was “Perhaps as colourful and dramatic a pageant as ever was enacted on a baseball field [as] 61,808 fans thundered a hail and farewell”. Dignitaries extolled the dying slugger and the members of the 1927 Yankees World Championship team, known as “Murderer’s Row”, attended the ceremonies. New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia called Lou Gehrig “the greatest prototype of good sportsmanship and citizenship” and Postmaster General James Farley concluded his speech by predicting, “For generations to come, boys who play baseball will point with pride to your record.”

Yankees Manager Joe McCarthy, struggling to control his emotions, then spoke of Lou Gehrig, with whom there was a close, almost father and son-like bond. After describing Lou Gehrig as “the finest example of a ballplayer, sportsman, and citizen that baseball has ever known”, Joe McCarthy could stand it no longer. Turning tearfully to Lou Gehrig, the manager said, “Lou, what else can I say except that it was a sad day in the life of everybody who knew you when you came into my hotel room that day in Detroit and told me you were quitting as a ballplayer because you felt yourself a hindrance to the team. My God, man, you were never that.”

The Yankees retired Lou Gehrig’s uniform number “4”, making him the first player in Major League Baseball history to be accorded that honor. Lou Gehrig was given many gifts, commemorative plaques, and trophies. Some came from VIPs; others came from the stadium’s groundskeepers and janitorial staff. Footage of the ceremonies shows Lou Gehrig being handed various gifts, and immediately setting them down on the ground, because he no longer had the arm strength to hold them. The Yankees gave him a silver trophy with their signatures engraved on it. Inscribed on the front was a special poem written by The New York Times writer John Kieran. The trophy cost only about $5, but it became one of Lou Gehrig’s most prized possessions. It is currently on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

After the presentations and remarks by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig addressed the crowd:

“Fans, for the past 2 weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent 6 years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next 9 years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift — that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body — it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”

Lou Gehrig at Yankee Stadium, 4 July, 1939

The crowd stood and applauded for almost 2 minutes. Lou Gehrig was visibly shaken as he stepped away from the microphone, and wiped the tears away from his face with his handkerchief. Babe Ruth came over and hugged him as a band played “I Love You Truly” and the crowd chanted “We love you, Lou”. The New York Times account the following day called it “one of the most touching scenes ever witnessed on a ball field”, that made even hard-boiled reporters “swallow hard”.

In December 1939, Lou Gehrig was elected unanimously to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in a special election by the Baseball Writers Association, waiving the waiting period normally required after a ballplayer’s retirement. At age 36, he was the youngest player to be so honoured.

“Don’t think I am depressed or pessimistic about my condition at present,” Lou Gehrig wrote following his retirement from baseball. Struggling against his ever-worsening physical condition, he added, “I intend to hold on as long as possible and then if the inevitable comes, I will accept it philosophically and hope for the best. That’s all we can do.”

In October 1939, he accepted Mayor LaGuardia’s appointment to a 10 year term as a New York City Parole Commissioner and was sworn into office on 2 January, 1940. The Parole Commission commended the ex-ballplayer for his “firm belief in parole, properly administered”, stating that Lou Gehrig “indicated he accepted the parole post because it represented an opportunity for public service. Lou Gehrig had rejected other job offers – including lucrative speaking and guest appearance opportunities – worth far more financially than the $5,700 a year commissionership.” Lou Gehrig visited New York City’s correctional facilities, but insisted that they not be covered by news media. Lou Gehrig, as always, quietly and efficiently performed his duties. Lou Gehrig was often helped by his wife Eleanor, who would guide his hand when he had to sign official documents. About a month before his death, when Lou Gehrig reached the point where his deteriorating physical condition made it impossible for him to continue in the job, he quietly resigned.

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What Is ALS?

ALS is one of the most common neuromuscular diseases worldwide, and people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are affected.

ALS is short for, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or Maladie de Charcot) is a progressive, usually fatal, neurodegenerative disease caused by the degeneration of motor neurons, the nerve cells in the central nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement.

Between 1 to 2 people per 100,000 develop ALS each year. ALS most commonly strikes people between 40 and 60 years of age, but younger and older people can also develop the disease.

Scientists have not found a definitive cause for ALS and the onset of the disease can be linked to a variety of risk factors. It is believed that one or more of the following factors are responsible for the majority of ALS cases. Researchers suspect a virus, exposure to neurotoxins or heavy metals, DNA defects, immune system abnormalities, and enzyme abnormalities as the leading causes of the disease.

The onset of ALS may be so subtle that the symptoms are frequently overlooked. The earliest symptoms may include twitching, cramping, or stiffness of muscles; muscle weakness affecting an arm or a leg, and/or slurred and nasal speech.

Men are affected slightly more often than women.

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The End Of Hearing Impairment Series

I hope you have enjoyed reading about “What Is A Hearing Impairment? Series” and of the Famous People that have or had suffered from A Hearing Impairment. Sadly, we have come to the end of our “Hearing Impairment Series”. We now begin our “ALS Series” so please enjoy reading.

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