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Medicine Science

How Stephen Hawking Has Defied the Odds For 50 Years 495

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Now aged 70, Prof Stephen Hawking, winner of 12 honorary degrees, a CBE and in 2009 awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is an extraordinary man — but what is perhaps most extraordinary about Hawking is how he has defied and baffled medical experts who predicted he had just months to live in 1963, when he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), a disease that only 5% survive for more than a decade after diagnosis. Hawking started having symptoms shortly before his 21st birthday. At first they were mild — a bit of clumsiness and few unexplained stumbles and falls but, predictably, by the very nature of the disease, his incurable condition worsened. The diagnosis came as a great shock, but also helped shape his future." (Read on, below.)
Pickens continues: "'Although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research, and I got engaged to a girl called Jane Wilde, whom I had met just about the time my condition was diagnosed,' says Hawking. 'That engagement changed my life. It gave me something to live for.' Another important thing in Hawking's life has been his work and at the age of 70, Hawking continues working at the University of Cambridge and recently published a new book — The Grand Design. 'Being disabled, or physically challenged, makes no difference to how my scientific colleagues treat me apart from practical matters like waiting while I write what I want to say.' Finally the grandfather-of-three continues to seek out new challenges and recently experienced first-hand what space travel feels like by taking a zero-gravity flight in a specially modified plane. 'People are fascinated by the contrast between my very limited physical powers, and the vast nature of the universe I deal with,' says Hawking. 'I'm the archetype of a disabled genius, or should I say a physically challenged genius, to be politically correct. At least I'm obviously physically challenged. Whether I'm a genius is more open to doubt.'"
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How Stephen Hawking Has Defied the Odds For 50 Years

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  • by blahbooboo ( 839709 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:06AM (#38636468)

    He also has access to an amazing amount of healthcare. Not many people can afford full time staff to maintain their lives both personally and professionally. He has people so desperate to work with him that they train for years to understand his unique communication.

  • Remarkable (Score:5, Informative)

    by overshoot ( 39700 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:14AM (#38636504)
    How many physicists have written best-sellers? About physics?

    To join in wishing him the best: may he live as long as life brings him joy, and joy for as long as he lives.

  • by Sique ( 173459 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:17AM (#38636524) Homepage

    I don't know about the UK and the NHS, but at least in Germany, he would be considered Pflegestufe III (support level III, more than 300 mins per day necessary, including necessary support between 10pm and 6am), and it would be fully covered by the (mandantory) support insurance.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:24AM (#38636576)

    No, it's true it's basically all NHS.

  • by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:29AM (#38636610)

    He also has access to an amazing amount of healthcare. Not many people can afford full time staff to maintain their lives both personally and professionally. He has people so desperate to work with him that they train for years to understand his unique communication.

    Money and people who care do help, but a neighbor of mine came down with a related disease 3 years ago, she died 1 year ago, and not for lack of a caring family with the resources to do anything possible.

    When your diaphragm is paralyzed, it's over, or at least very unpleasant to continue. Hawking has been unusually lucky that his disease did not spread to basic autonomic, or extensive cognitive functions, as it all too often does.

  • by GauteL ( 29207 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:42AM (#38636686)

    "*Ahem* you don't know a thing about ALS, do you ? He was probably perfectly healthy until 21, at which point 1 diagnosis was (and is) pretty much all that could be done. As for disability aids, those were designed, operated and built by his "employer".
    And as far as I believe that house he has as part of his position comes complete with a butler (read : he gets to hire someone for that)."

    Rather than speculate, let us read Stephen Hawking's own words [] about his debt to the NHS.

    The telling paragraph:
    "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS," he said. "I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived."

    I would say the last sentence qualifies as evidence for the parent's statement about Stephen Hawking owing his life to the NHS.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:45AM (#38636702)

    ...or he's part of the 5% of cases where his diaphragm doesn't give out and he doesn't die of lung failure?

  • Re:Lame (Score:5, Informative)

    by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:02AM (#38636826) Journal

    No Nobel prize

    Which at this point is surprising to me. He did pioneering work on the physics of black holes, and was the first to theorize on what is now called Hawking Radiation. That seems like a pretty good accomplishment. Do you suppose the relative lack of experimental confirmation keeps him from it?

    On the other hand, the Nobel committee has been known to overlook some rather obvious candidates. Einstein never received a Nobel for his work on relativity (special or general) or his contributions to quantum mechanics. His prize was given for his explanation of the photoelectric effect [] which, while an important contribution, most people don't know about.

  • In what respect? The healthcare he received you mean?

    That's the beauty of a universal healthcare system - everyone has access to the same treatment. They didn't treat him specially because he had international fame (in fact, the fame didn't come until later - it didn't affect his treatment by the NHS at all).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:28AM (#38637044)

    If you think NHS is a pillar example of public healthcare system that works you are hugely mistaken. I am a big believer in socialized medicine,but NHS is not a great one...

    Well, let's ask Steven Hawkings about the NHS [] himself then, shall we?

    I would not be alive without the NHS

    Seems clear enough to me...

  • by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:35AM (#38637086)

    In the US, being poor and/or elderly makes it easier to get health care. Medicare/Medicaid covers a lot.

    If Hawkings decided to take a job tomorrow in the US at some university, group health care would likely provide similar care to what he has now. Even before the recent laws, group health for large organizations paid for preexisting conditions.

    It's folks that aren't poor but don't get benefits from other sources that are left out in the US. The poor and the elderly already have socialize medicine.

  • by chrb ( 1083577 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:45AM (#38637156)
    Stephen Hawking: I would not be alive without the NHS []. This was his response to the amusing mistake by U.S. financial newspaper Investor's Business Daily, which claimed that Stephen Hawking was American, and that if Stephen Hawking were British, he would be dead.

    The controlling of medical costs in countries such as Britain through rationing, and the health consequences thereof, are legendary," read a recent editorial from the paper. "The stories of people dying on a waiting list or being denied altogether read like a horror script...

    "People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."

    Stephen Hawking both British and not dead [].

  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:50AM (#38637218) Homepage

    Stephen Hawking has appeared on The Simpsons, Futurama, and Star Trek TNG, giving him a Bacon Number of 3 and a Bacon-Erdos Number of 7.

  • by willaien ( 2494962 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:18AM (#38637484)

    His extensive care began when he was a nobody making no money. As mentioned by the telegraph piece linked several times.

  • by adonoman ( 624929 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:20AM (#38637506)
    You're missing the GP's point - the US government already pays more for healthcare per citizen than most countries with single-payer universal health care. You don't need to redirect billions, there's already enough being spent to provide health care to every citizen in the US. We just need to dump the insurance bureaucracy that is costing so much overhead.
  • by MattskEE ( 925706 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:39AM (#38637722)

    I wonder how would a young 21 year old academic with ALS fare in the USA.

    US universities generally have great benefits for their employees (good health insurance policies) and tend to be pretty flexible with sick leave for professors

    21 year old academics (even Stephen Hawking) are not professors, they are undergrads or grad students, and they do not get professor-level health insurance plans from the university. I'm a grad student on my university's health insurance policy, it's not bad at least for routine care although the co-pays are higher than when I was on my parent's plan. It costs me a little over $2,200/year, which is admittedly much less than tuition. Sidenote: thanks to "Obamacare" it is much easier for kids to stay on their parents health insurance plan to an older age (26 I think?), which is great if (A) your parent has a job with health insurance and (B) putting you on your parents plan doesn't cost more than you and your parent can afford.

    The better question would be how would a young blue-collar worker with ALS fare. He would be completely screwed.

    Yep :(

  • by sgt scrub ( 869860 ) < minus punct> on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:45AM (#38637780)

    Long version: $3,000/y medicaid, $6,000/y food stamps, and a free bus ticket. This is assuming he/she doesn't have a job. If they have a job the employers insurance company has to pay up to $3,000/y. They are out of pocket for medical expenses above $3,000/y either way.

    Short version: In a word fuckt.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:20PM (#38638170)

    blinded. I married a European and as a result have been able to fly over there to get care. My experiences there have been far better, at far lower cost, than any I've ever had in the U.S. The equipment is newer and in better condition. The staff are friendlier, take more time to talk to you, and do better/cleaner jobs with procedures. The overhead of paperwork is far lower. There's a reason I am willing to fly across the Atlantic for medical and dental these days.

    Tell it to an American and they will simply invent untruths to aid in their not believing you. Either you're lying or you have some kind of undue influence or they're treating you better because they know you're an American and they want to impress you so that you'll help them to immigrate into the U.S. (yes, I've been told that), or umpteen other nonsensical things. The only thing that they won't believe is the Occam's Razor case. The care is simply better because the system simply works better.

    No, that couldn't possibly be it. Everyone knows that that eurosocialistcommunisttotalitarianantiamerican system is completely dysfunctional because biggovernmentneverworksandsocializedmedicineistheultimategovernmentboondogle.

    Americans are just that way. There's a reason we're increasingly the laughing stock not just of Europe (where we've always been seen as quaint and ridiculous) but now even in places like the Pacific Rim and parts of Latin America that we still believe engage in a kind of colonial worship of us.

  • by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:55PM (#38638656)

    2. The cost of lawsuits is twofold and small. Texas has already tried imposing limits on medical lawsuits. The numbers of malpractice suits has fallen through the floor and malpractice insurance rates have also fallen. Actual medical costs have not and continue to grow at well above the national average.

  • by JasterBobaMereel ( 1102861 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:23PM (#38639036)

    That's NICE overriding no-one ...because they *are* a panel of medical experts ...

    They have not refused him because he is too young, they have refused him on the medical grounds that the drug has not been proven to work except in moderate stage patients, and when he gets that far (hopefully not for some time) will let him have it ...

    He is on medication, just not Aricept

    Assisted suicide is illegal in the UK ... Something Terry is campaigning to change

  • by Bucky24 ( 1943328 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:44PM (#38639306)

    American hospitals leave people to die in the gutter unless they have insurance or cash on hand.

    No, it's quite the opposite. American hospitals are not allowed to turn people away just because they can't pay. They are forced by law to admit them and treat them, then release them. This used to be mostly illegal immigrants, but now is growing to include American citizens who just don't have insurance and can't afford the bills. To make ends meet, hospitals then have to jack up the prices on the people who CAN pay, which increases insurance costs, which then increases our premiums. It's a vicious cycle.

  • by Beardo the Bearded ( 321478 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:09PM (#38639612)

    Meanwhile in Canada:

    When my wife was pregnant with our first kid, there were some complications. We ended up getting a dozen ultrasounds over the course of the pregnancy. It cost us a total of $10 for the printouts, and those were optional. The first us was at 10 weeks when she looked like a little gummy bear. (She'll be 8 in 4 weeks.) The second kid had the same set of concerns so we get another dozen ultrasounds. (He'll be 6 in a few months.) Both times the complication was pre-eclampsia, excess fluid, and they were both too big so we got C-sections. (4.5kg, 38cm head circumference) For the first, the doctors used prostaglandin and oxytocin to induce labour, but it wouldn't work so we moved to an emergency c-section. The boy was late, so VBAC was canceled and we got another c-section.

    Total cost, including hospital stay: $0.

    I get my iron levels checked routinely, I've got my annual physical coming up (I call to make the appointment on my birthday) and it's 100% covered including any bloodwork. My wife gets several hormone levels and her iron levels checked on a regular basis too.

    Now, it's not all free. We pay $120 a month for our family coverage. It covers basic services but not ambulance rides. (Some people were using them for taxis, so they put in a $65 fee for ambulance pickup. They bill you later, you don't have to whip out the traveller's cheques to get in like the time we my brother got hurt in the US.)

    One time the kids got hit by a car and we were about 300m from the ambulance dispatch station. There was another family there, and I think the dispatcher said "send everybody...everybody" and everybody came. Five ambulances, less than a minute. The stroller was destroyed, the kids were rushed to the hospital, scanned and examined, and released that night. They even brought them stuffies to play with and keep them happy. (To this day we celebrate the stuffies' birthday.)

    Total cost: $65 for the ambulance ride.

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:51PM (#38640112) Homepage Journal

    Except that even with all of that taken into account, we still spend WAY more on healthcare (per capita) than any other western nation but consistently get worse outcomes.

  • by thetoadwarrior ( 1268702 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:36PM (#38641600) Homepage
    Because they're rich and scared and will buy into the propaganda that says US medical care is better or they realise they're rich and want the pampered treatment you get in the US since you're paying through the nose or maybe the low value of the dollar makes it a better deal when your currency is worth more?.

    BTW, it should be noted people from the US also go to other countries and funnily enough one country western people go to is India. []

    In fact more Americans go elsewhere compared to people going to the US. []

    A McKinsey and Co. report from 2008 found that a plurality of an estimated 60,000 to 85,000 medical tourists were traveling to the United States for the purpose of receiving in-patient medical care;[77] the same McKinsey study estimated that 750,000 American medical tourists traveled from the United States to other countries in 2007 (up from 500,000 in 2006).

    If you read that link too you'll see some US doctors are making their prices comprable to other countries which again makes it more attractive.

    As with anything it's not as straight forward as Fox News makes it in their attacks on socialised medicine.

"More software projects have gone awry for lack of calendar time than for all other causes combined." -- Fred Brooks, Jr., _The Mythical Man Month_