Image: Wikimedia Commons/rubberpaw

I was wondering that very question last night. So, I did a bit of online research and found a great article by Katherine Harmon on the Scientific American website.

Here’s what Ms. Harmon had to say…

“Stephen Hawking turns 70 on Sunday (Jan. 8, 2012), beating the odds of a daunting diagnosis by nearly half a century.

The famous theoretical physicist has helped to bring his ideas about black holes and quantum gravity to a broad public audience. For much of his time in the public eye, though, he has been confined to a wheelchair by a form of the motor-neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). And since 1985 he has had to speak through his trademark computer system—which he operates with his cheek—and have around-the-clock care.

But his disease seems hardly to have slowed him down. Hawking spent 30 years as a full professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge. And he is currently the director of research at the school’s Center for Theoretical Cosmology.

But like his mind, Hawking’s illness seems to be singular. Most patients with ALS—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for the famous baseball player who succumbed to the disease—are diagnosed after the age of 50 and die within five years of their diagnosis. Hawking’s condition was first diagnosed when he was 21, and he was not expected to see his 25th birthday.

Why has Hawking lived so long with this malady when so many other people die so soon after diagnosis? We spoke with Leo McCluskey, an associate professor ofneurology and medical director of the ALS Center at the University of Pennsylvania, to find out more about the disease and why it has spared Hawking and his amazing brain.”

Click here for the rest of this very interesting article.

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