Lou Gehrig’s Disease: May is National ALS Awareness Month

It’s probably the most famous speech a Major League Baseball player has ever delivered despite over seventy years of history been then and now. Delivered on the 4th of July from behind home plate at a sold-out Yankee Stadium, Lou “Iron Horse” Gehrig’s words still ring out strong and lasting; we know how they go:

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

Lou Gehrig at Yankee Stadium, July 4, 1939

May is National Awareness Month for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or, more commonly, “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” named for the Yankee Hall of Fame firstbaseman who died, at the way too young age of thirty-seven, a short five months after delivering his speech to nary a dry a eye in the entire Stadium.  So much time has passed since then: the Yankees now seek championships across the street and scientists and researchers still seek a cure for this incredibly heinous disease.

For the last handful of years, MLB and especially the New York Yankees have been involved in outreach and fund-raising programs toward the goals of both awareness and the hopeful cure of this highly degenerative disease.  From the ALS Association (www.alsa.org) webpage: “(ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.”

Last November, former Yankee manager Joe Torre was honored by the New York chapter of the ALSA at a dinner that helped raise over three-quarters of a million dollars toward research. But Lou Gehrig is not the only famous Yankee felled by this horrible affliction. Jim “Catfish” Hunter, a big part of the great Yankee teams of the late 1970s, died in 1999 from Lou Gehrig’s disease as well. Catfish has his own chapter on the ALS site (www.CatfishChapter.org) where the motto is: “Leading the fight to treat and cure ALS.”

Yes, today is Mother’s Day and while ALS is a disease that more often than not affects men, let’s think about Dad today and let’s think about Mr. Gehrig and his speech while we’re at it. I would like to think that when Lou was telling the Stadium and the world that he considered himself “the luckiest man on this face of this Earth” he didn’t quite know what was in store for him; Catfish Hunter surely did. Right now, I am watching a dear friend live with this disease with much of the same dignity and strength that Gehrig represented on that Independence Day in 1939. The world would indeed be a better place if we could be free of this truly horrible, deadly affliction. Take a moment today to be thankful for your health and that of your family and if you have the desire and means to give to one of the ALSA chapters, please do so. Thank you.

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