News & Stories

Famous Faces of ALS: Celebrities Who Battled the Disease

Introduction to ALS

What is ALS?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after the famed baseball player who was diagnosed with the condition in 1939. As a progressive neurodegenerative disease, ALS affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, leading to a decline in motor function. Over time, individuals with ALS experience difficulty in speaking, swallowing, and eventually breathing, as the voluntary muscles become increasingly weaker.

The Ice Bucket Challenge, which went viral in 2014, brought ALS into the public eye like never before. Celebrities, athletes, and countless others participated by dousing themselves with ice water and donating to ALS research. This global phenomenon not only raised millions but also significantly increased awareness of the disease and its impact on patients and families.

At ALS United Greater Chicago, the focus is on empowering those affected by ALS through comprehensive care and support while aggressively pursuing research opportunities for treatment and a cure. The organization provides resources and creates a community of support that aligns with the needs of those facing the daily challenges of ALS.

Who is affected?

ALS is not discriminatory in whom it affects, touching the lives of individuals of diverse ages and backgrounds. The disease usually manifests between the ages of 55 and 75. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that younger adults, and in rare cases even children, may also be diagnosed with ALS. This progressive disease often leads to complete paralysis and a comprehensive loss of muscle control, rendering everyday activities exceedingly challenging. ALS United Greater Chicago is resolutely committed to offering unwavering support and resources to all those facing the tribulations of this condition.

Common Symptoms

The journey with ALS begins differently for each individual, manifesting in symptoms that can be easily overlooked. Early on, one might notice seemingly minor issues – an unexplained weakness in the hands or a persistent stiffness in the leg muscles. Others might experience muscle twitches, called fasciculations, that are most noticeable when at rest. As these symptoms evolve, they often give way to more pronounced difficulties such as slurred speech, an increased clumsiness that leads to frequent tripping, or unexpected emotional outbursts caused by the condition known as pseudobulbar affect.

As ALS progresses, the spectrum of symptoms widens and intensifies. The physical toll becomes more evident; muscles atrophy and individuals may become partially or fully paralyzed. Swallowing food and liquids can become a challenge, which not only affects nutrition but also the social aspects of dining. Shortness of breath arises as respiratory muscles weaken, often necessitating additional medical support. These later symptoms represent significant milestones in the ALS journey and shape the care and support needed as individuals approach the advanced stages of the disease.

Understanding the full range of common symptoms, from the early, subtler signs to the more advanced indicators, is vital for those navigating an ALS diagnosis. We provide resources and guidance to help manage these symptoms and maintain the best possible quality of life.

Current Treatments

While there is currently no cure for ALS, a spectrum of treatments is available that aim to slow the disease’s progression and help maintain the best quality of life possible. These treatment modalities encompass FDA-approved medications, physical therapy, nutritional guidance, speech therapy, and the deployment of assistive technologies such as wheelchairs or electronic communication devices.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several medications specifically targeting ALS symptoms or slowing progression: Qalsody, RELYVRIO, Radicava, Rilutek, Tiglutik, Exservan, and Nuedexta. Consult your doctor and health care team for more information about what may be right for you. Unfortunately, at this time there is no cure for ALS.

Famous Faces of ALS: An Overview

The Impact of Celebrities on ALS Awareness

The diagnosis of renowned figures like baseball icon Lou Gehrig, whose name the disease colloquially bears, and exceptional physicist Stephen Hawking, has cast a spotlight on ALS. Their experiences with ALS have elevated public awareness and comprehension, fostering a spirit of solidarity and support that transcends boundaries. This celebrity connection has been instrumental in illuminating the challenges faced by those living with ALS and has motivated many to join the cause. These influential individuals have hugely contributed to the funding of research and increased public consciousness of the disease. Inspired by their dedication, we at ALS United Greater Chicago, endeavor to amplify the message and extend support to everyone touched by ALS.

Lou Gehrig: The Man Behind the Disease’s Nickname

Gehrig’s Sports Career and ALS

Lou Gehrig is an iconic figure not just in baseball, but also in the narrative of ALS. Known as the ‘Iron Horse’, Gehrig’s prowess as a first baseman for the New York Yankees was unparalleled. During his career from 1923 to 1939, he was a pivotal force that led the Yankees to six World Series championships. His contribution to the sport was immense, with a formidable batting average and a tally of 23 grand slams—a record that stood for several decades. However, this illustrious career was cut tragically short in 1939, when Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that leads to paralysis and, ultimately, death.

What made this period in Gehrig’s life particularly noteworthy was the impact his diagnosis had on public awareness of ALS. At the time, ALS was not widely known or understood. Gehrig’s diagnosis brought the condition into the national spotlight, offering a face to this devastating disease. Today, we pay tribute to his legacy and recognize his unintended yet significant role in raising awareness about ALS, the very disease that now bears his name. At ALS United Greater Chicago, we draw inspiration from Gehrig’s strength and perseverance, reflecting our commitment to those facing the challenges of ALS.

Impact on Baseball and Sports Community

Gehrig’s diagnosis and subsequent retirement from baseball had a profound impact on the sports community. His struggles with ALS brought attention to the harsh realities of the disease and sparked conversations about the health challenges faced by athletes. Gehrig’s story continues to resonate with athletes and sports fans today, serving as a reminder of the human element behind the sport. Acknowledging the impact of Gehrig’s story, its role in bringing ALS into the public discourse is a driving force for awareness and advocacy.

Gehrig’s Speech: A Turning Point for ALS Awareness

Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech in 1939 stands as one of the most iconic moments in sports history. An address by a legendary baseball player retiring at the peak of his career, the speech had a profound impact on the nation and ALS awareness. His humble and courageous words shed light on the condition, sparking a sea change in public perception. Gehrig’s vulnerability on that day did more than humanize him; it humanized ALS and fostered a compassionate response from the broader society. His declaration of being the “luckiest man on the face of the earth,” despite his diagnosis, showcased remarkable resilience. This moment not only galvanized support for those living with ALS but also helped to destigmatize the disease. We honor Gehrig’s legacy through our commitment to empowering those affected by ALS, nurturing a community that embodies the same strength and optimism Gehrig displayed.

Stephen Hawking: A Life Beyond Limits

Hawking’s Diagnosis and Battle with ALS

Noted British physicist Stephen Hawking is perhaps the most famous person to have lived with ALS. Diagnosed while he was still attending Oxford University in the 1960s, Hawking was faced with a form of the disease that was very slow to progress. Despite the challenges posed by ALS, which included becoming wheelchair-bound and eventually paralyzed, Hawking defied expectations by living with the disease for more than five decades.

His Contributions to Science Despite ALS

Stephen Hawking’s unparalleled determination allowed him to overcome the barriers imposed by ALS and contribute groundbreaking theories to the field of science. His seminal work on black holes and the origins of the universe has reshaped our understanding of physics, and he did so while grappling with the constraints of his condition. Hawking’s exceptional intellect was matched only by his innovative approach to communicating complex concepts, using an electronic device controlled by the movement of a single muscle in his cheek. His academic tenure was nothing short of remarkable, highlighted by a 30-year position as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, a title once held by Isaac Newton.

In recognition of his profound impact on scientific knowledge, Hawking received a plethora of accolades, including the prestigious U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and appointments as an Honorary Fellow of both the Royal Society of Arts and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. His theories have inspired countless documentaries, books, and discussions that continue to fuel a global conversation about the mysteries of the universe. His legacy serves as a beacon of inspiration for all who face challenges—proving that the human spirit, emboldened by curiosity and resilience, can triumph over adversity.

Hawking’s Influence on ALS Awareness

Stephen Hawking’s remarkable journey, living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) while contributing groundbreaking insights into cosmology, elevated public consciousness around the condition. His determination and prolific career, indelibly etched within the annals of science, spotlighted the capabilities of individuals living with ALS. As a symbol of perseverance, Hawking’s narrative has not only fostered increased awareness but has empowered those touched by ALS, fostering a deeper comprehension of their experiences and underlining the importance of continued research and support. Our community at ALS United Greater Chicago deeply values Hawking’s legacy as a beacon of hope and a catalyst for greater understanding and advocacy in the fight against ALS.

Steve Gleason: No White Flags

Gleason’s Diagnosis and Battle with ALS

Former NFL player Steve Gleason was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. Despite the challenges posed by the disease, Gleason has used his platform to raise awareness about ALS and advocate for those affected by the disease. His story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and a powerful reminder of the urgent need for continued research and funding to find a cure for ALS. Inspired by Gleason’s courage and determination, ALS United Greater Chicago remains steadfast in the fight against ALS.

Team Gleason

Team Gleason, founded by Steve, is more than just a foundation—it embodies the unstoppable spirit to advocate for and improve the lives of those impacted by ALS. The work achieved by the foundation is monumental, focusing on providing innovative technology, equipment, caregiving services, and educational resources to those living with the disease. Moreover, Team Gleason’s emphasis on raising awareness about ALS has played a significant role in bringing attention and much-needed funds to the cause. The foundation’s ethos, symbolized by the “No White Flags” slogan, resonates with individuals worldwide, serving as a rallying cry that breeds courage and fosters a resilient community fighting against ALS.

For all of us at ALS United Greater Chicago, the inspiration drawn from Steve Gleason’s journey and his foundation’s initiatives energizes our resolve to empower those affected and to press on in the quest for solutions. We honor the legacy that Team Gleason has built—a legacy that stirs motivation within the ALS community and highlights the power of hope and relentless pursuit of progress.

Gleason’s Influence on ALS Awareness

Steve Gleason’s enduring battle with ALS has transcended personal struggle, becoming a beacon of hope for the ALS community worldwide. The visibility he has brought to this disease through his unyielding spirit and activism has significantly advanced public understanding and support. His journey, widely known for its ‘No White Flags’ ethos, imbues the fight against ALS with tenacity and encourages a wider audience to engage with the cause. His work has not only contributed to increased funding for research but has also ignited vital conversations regarding the lived experiences of those with ALS and the critical pursuit of a cure. We, at ALS United Greater Chicago, recognize and honor Steve Gleason’s remarkable influence on ALS awareness and remain steadfast in our mission to offer unwavering support to individuals and families navigating ALS.

Iron Horse Courage Award

Steve Gleason was honored with The Iron Horse Courage Award by ALS United Greater Chicago in 2017. The Iron Horse Courage Award represents a beacon of fortitude and hope within the ALS community. Emblematic of Lou Gehrig’s moniker, ‘Iron Horse’, this award pays tribute to the resilience, steadfastness, and indomitable spirit of those who resolve to live boldly in the shadow of ALS. Highlighting the remarkable bravery and persistence of its honorees, the accolade inspires all members of the ALS community to persist with courage in their journeys. Celebrating these beacons of courage reinforces our shared commitment at ALS United Greater Chicago to mirror their strength in our services and initiatives for individuals and families navigating ALS.

Steve McMichael: 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame

McMichael’s Diagnosis and Battle with ALS

Former Chicago Bears football player Steve McMichael was diagnosed with ALS in 2021. Faced with the realities of such a diagnosis, McMichael has shared his struggles, shedding light on the impacts of the disease not only on those diagnosed but also on their families and communities. As his symptoms have progressed, McMichael has not shied away from the public eye, instead using his personal experience to draw attention to the critical need for funding and support for the ALS community.

His advocacy has become a beacon of hope and a rallying cry for many. McMichael has engaged with organizations, inspired events, and leveraged his status to underscore the importance of patient-centric care. Together, as a community, we push forward, motivated by stories like McMichael’s and driven by the belief that with persistence, collaboration, and dedicated research, a cure for ALS can be found.

Team Mongo

Steve McMichael, former NFL player and Super Bowl champion, has channeled his tenacity from the football field into an equally formidable opponent: ALS. After his diagnosis, Team Mongo was established as an organization committed to relentless ALS awareness and improving the lives of those impacted by the disease. From raising funds for research to enhancing daily living for individuals with ALS, Team Mongo embodies the spirit of determination and hope.

Beyond providing crucial resources and solutions, McMichael’s efforts have rallied the ALS community, offering a powerful source of motivation. This synergy between Team Mongo and ALS United Greater Chicago accentuates the shared vision of delivering exceptional care and advancing toward a cure. His leadership serves as a beacon, lighting the way for ongoing support, activism, and progress in the fight against ALS.

McMichael’s Impact on ALS Awareness in Chicago

McMichael’s battle with ALS and his influential role in raising awareness about the disease has had a significant impact on the ALS community in Chicago. His story has propelled ALS into the spotlight, fostering a deeper understanding of the disease and motivating others to support the ALS community. McMichael’s unwavering determination has ignited critical conversations about the disease and the pressing need for a cure.

Iron Horse Courage Award

In 2021, Steve McMichael was presented with The Iron Horse Courage Award by ALS United Greater Chicago. The Iron Horse Courage Award is a significant accolade within the ALS community. Named after Lou Gehrig, the ‘Iron Horse’, the award honors individuals who demonstrate courage, resilience, and determination in their battle with ALS. It serves as a powerful reminder of the strength and tenacity of those living with ALS and provides inspiration for the broader ALS community. At ALS United Greater Chicago, we celebrate the recipients of the Iron Horse Courage Award and strive to embody their spirit of resilience in our work to support those affected by ALS.

The Continued Fight Against ALS

The Importance of Continued Research and Funding

Research and funding in the realm of ALS are the bedrock of hope for individuals affected by this progressive neurodegenerative disease. Continued efforts in these areas are crucial for several reasons. First and foremost, research engenders a better understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying ALS. This understanding is pivotal for developing more precise and effective treatments, which are currently limited.

The landscape of ALS research is a mosaic of complex challenges and promising opportunities. Each discovery, whether it be at the molecular, genetic, or therapeutic level, heralds potential breakthroughs that can alter the course of the disease. Yet, these discoveries are not possible without the foundational support of funding. It provides the resources necessary for scientists to explore innovative hypotheses, conduct clinical trials, and refine treatment protocols.

Beyond the scientific realm, funding aids in elevating the quality of life for those living with ALS by supporting care services and resources. It also facilitates the translation of research findings into accessible treatments, ensuring that advancements are not mere academic victories but practical lifelines for patients.

At ALS United Greater Chicago, the belief in the potential of research and the impact of funding is unwavering. We stand at the forefront of championing these endeavors, propelled by the conviction that every step forward is a stride toward a future free from ALS. Join us as we forge ahead, united in our mission to end this disease. By collaborating with researchers, donors, and advocates, we amplify the collective voice for change and strive to make the vision of a world without ALS a reality.

How to Support Those with ALS

Supporting individuals with ALS is a multi-faceted endeavor that goes beyond mere financial assistance. Volunteering, for instance, allows individuals to offer their time and talents, directly impacting the well-being of those with ALS. Tasks can range from simple companionship to assisting in daily activities, or even lending skills for events and fundraising efforts.

Advocacy plays a crucial role, as well. By raising awareness and driving conversations with policymakers, we can foster an environment that accelerates research and improves access to care and services. Each voice added to the chorus advocating for the ALS community amplifies the urgency needed to inspire change.

Moreover, financial contributions are deeply impactful, enabling the funding of cutting-edge research aimed at finding a cure and providing comprehensive support systems for those impacted by the disease. Whether it’s through one-time donations, recurring gifts, or participating in fundraising activities, every contribution bolsters our mission.

At ALS United Greater Chicago, each gesture of support, big or small, combines to create a powerful force for good. It’s about more than just money or time; it’s about the collective strength of a community committed to making a real difference. Your engagement is invaluable to maintaining the continuum of care and advancing our unified front against ALS.

Remembering the Famous Faces of ALS

Remembering and honoring the famous faces of ALS goes beyond paying tribute to their extraordinary lives—it galvanizes our community, spurring us to action by exemplifying courage and perseverance. The legacies of individuals like Lou Gehrig, whose name became synonymous with the disease, and Stephen Hawking, who defied his prognosis through decades of scientific contributions, remind us that behind every ALS story, there is a face, a family, and a network of support. Their journeys, marked by remarkable achievements and indomitable spirit, energize our resolve to press on in the face of adversity. They are our beacons of hope, illustrating that the limitations of ALS are continually challenged by the power of the human spirit. When we recount their stories, we do more than remember—we renew our commitment to those battling ALS today and fortify our determination to end this disease for future generations.

Looking Forward: The Future of ALS

Looking forward, we remain hopeful about the future of ALS. With ongoing efforts to raise awareness and funds for ALS research, the potential for breakthroughs in understanding, treating, and ultimately curing the disease is greater than ever. We are inspired by the courage and resilience of those living with ALS and are committed to doing everything we can to support them. Our mission is to end ALS once and for all, and we will continue to work tirelessly toward this goal. We invite you to join us in this fight. Donate Now to help us continue our efforts.

Share This Page: