Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lou Gehrig and Lou Gehrig's Disease

This is a guest post by Doctor Steven A. King

For anyone tempted to read the original paper on which this story was based thinking that it might discuss Lou, you will be disappointed. Not only isn't Lou mentioned neither is baseball.

(Editor's note: The New York Times article by Alan Schwarz can be read at Lou Gehrig may not have really had Lou Gehrig's disease: Study shows concussions, brain trauma can mimic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)

The three cases for which the symptoms of Lou Gehrig's disease are attributed to head trauma include 2 pro football players and a boxer.

It's also worth noting that the case histories of these three do not match Lou's at all. Two didn't develop the physical symptoms of their illness until they were in their mid-60's and the third when he was age 47 despite participating in sports associated with much more head trauma than baseball. It's also worth noting that two of the three developed marked cognitive impairment, i.e, inability to think, which preceded the onset of the physical problems and the third developed marked depression with outbursts of anger as the physical symptoms were appearing. As far, as I know none of this is anything close to what Lou experienced.

All three of the cases in the original paper suffered from slurred speech within six months of the onset of their symptoms and two of them including the one who developed his symptoms at age 47 also had marked impairment in walking within that time period. There is no evidence of either of these when Lou gave his famous "Luckiest Man Speech" and as most people believe his symptoms certainly began before the six months preceding it, these are two more significant things that do not apply to him.

I should note that some of the information in the article regarding participation in sports in two of these cases is quite unusual. Although SABR is for those of us enthralled by baseball I assume many of us are also interested in other sports and I would be interested in anyone's input as to the possible validity of the following information:

1. One of the cases is described as a pro football player who retired at age 36 but only played three years of pro ball. Has anyone ever heard of such a strange career?

2. The boxer is reported to have retired at age 22 after boxing professionally for 10 years which obviously means he would have had to start at age 12. Does anyone know of any boxers who began their pro careers at such a young age?

Dr. King is a specialist in pain medicine in New York City. He also trained in neuropsychiatry early in his career at a major research center on the behavioral aspects of head trauma.

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