As we celebrate Independence Day, we also remember the late Yankee, Lou Gehrig–one of the greatest players in baseball history. On his 36th birthday in 1939, Mr. Gerhig was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a very rare form of disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Now commonly called Lou Gehrig disease, ALS forced the “Iron Horse” to resign from baseball.
ALS causes motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord to die, so they can no longer send messages to the muscle fibers that control movement. Early symptoms of the disease include muscle weakness in the arms and legs, along with difficulty in speech, swallowing and breathing.
ALS most commonly strikes people between 40 and 60 years old, according to the National Institutes of Health. More men get it than women, and about 5,600 Americans receive a diagnosis each year. The disease can strike anyone—sometimes within families and sometimes at random.
Though there is no way to halt or reverse ALS, contemporary medicine has made great strides in slowing down its progression with a medication called Riluzole. Furthermore, clinical trials are evaluating other drugs for future use that look very promising.
Here is the farewell address Mr. Gerhig gave at Yankees Stadium upon his retirement:
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.
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 six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine 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 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 may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.