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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 Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:12AM (#38636498)

    There's something more here about his disease - I'm sorry the article doesn't really seem to go into it. Why, in particular, has he not had more significant diaphragmatic involvement leading to the respiratory failure that is typically seen at the end of life with ALS? I'm really glad he has an atypical case, but the money aspect pales in comparison to the luck he has with how his disease has progressed.

  • by lkcl ( 517947 ) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:30AM (#38636616) Homepage

    i think it would be an interesting study, even an informal one, to see how many other people have a physical condition that is listed as "unsurvivable within period X" and to see if there is a correlation between them "defying the predictions" and, as hawking himself puts it, having "something to live for".

    put another way: how many people have, on learning of their condition, literally lost the will to live, and how many took it as a challenge to fight for their right to life and a purpose?

  • Re:Remarkable (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:39AM (#38636660)

    How many physicists have written best-sellers? About physics?

    Feynman, Gamow, Heisenberg all instantly come to mind as GOOD best seller physics popular science writers. There are probably a lot more BAD ones, example the new age quantum mech guy Zukav, but I can only instantly think of four good ones. You can troll by arguing about Greene, him being a string theorist means hes not a real physicist rather a theoretical mathematician, but he does live in the physics community despite mostly doing theoretical math, so I guess he counts. Lets call it five good ones.

    The puzzle is how come there are so many Physicist / Popular science book authors? In comparison, the biochemists have Asimov, and ... um yeah they've got Asimov, truly a great, yet only one individual. How about biologists? Other than the "poke a stick at the creationist nutters" of which there must be hundreds all writing the same thing, all they've got is Rachel Carson... So I ask again, how come there's so many best selling physicist authors?

  • Re:Creationists (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @09:42AM (#38636684)

    But I'm not a creationist, so I'll chalk it up to his willingness to fight and his access to good healthcare. And maybe random dumb luck.

    I've worked in and around medical devices and healthcare for 2 decades, and in that time I've seen a whole lot of "use it or lose it" principle in halting disease progression. It is certainly no guarantee, but odds are better that you will be able to keep doing something if you keep doing it. Basically, "bed rest" is evil and should be avoided at every opportunity.

    A whole lot of "good healthcare" is social support, keeping the patient active - sort of the opposite of your typical ICU experience.

  • Re:Lame (Score:4, Interesting)

    by daid303 ( 843777 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:15AM (#38636914)

    Getting your name on a physics theory/phenomenon is a much larger accomplishment then a nobel prize. Who remembers nobel prize winners? I bet the list of scientists with names in physics that everyone knows is larger then the list of nobel prize winners that people know.

  • Re:Remarkable (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:16AM (#38636920)

    Simply put, because of Carl Sagan. He made physics interesting to the general public and paved the way for the tons of physics documentaries out there today. Now there are a lot on the best seller list that you didn't mention, Michio Kaku, Brian Greene is a Theoretical Physicist (string theory is considered theoretical physics because it make predictions), and Neil DeGrasse Tyson to name a couple more. It really is amazing how Carl Sagan transformed how the scientific community treated the public from snobby and saying "they won't understand it, science is ours.' To "science is everyones."

  • by Anonymus ( 2267354 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:25AM (#38637008)

    I wish I had mod points to mod you up, because that's a very succinct way of putting it.

    I've lived both inside and outside of the US, and in my experience nearly every medical story that takes places in the US is a horror story that ends in pain, bankruptcy, disability, or death, while most stories coming from elsewhere are merely horror stories about inconvenience, delays, or the occasional mistake.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @10:41AM (#38637132)

    i can give you a personal example of the FANTASTIC care available on the NHS here in Scotland

    i was diagnosed with cancer in my bowels due to some villeous adenomas gone back. within a week of the diagnosis i was in an NHS hospital in Edinburgh getting them removed.

    i then had a course of chemotherapy which was a wonderful treatment which didn't cause hair loss.. apparently the same stuff Iain dury had.. his cancer however was too far gone for it to help sadly but it certainly worked for me

    ALL my treatment in hospital and the support care at home along with counselling, as i am telling you, NOTHING shakes the foundations of your being like a brush with mortality with the big C.

    i also have arthritis in both my knees for which i get physio and medication and i paid NOTHING FOR ANY OF IT not even the medicines adn the standard of care was and if VERY high indeed.

    i have been told that due to the advanced crepitus in my left knee that i will have to have a new left knee in the next 18-24 months..... and that and the support and follow on care will be provided to me for free

    My kids were born at the new Edinburgh royal infirmary maternity unit,a fanfastic and very high tech and well appointed place with BRILLIANT staff.. again.. no charge.

    the follow on care for the kids.. health visits froma district nurse type that monitors the health of the child and offers advice and help was also free.

    i have paid my taxes and my national insurance payments and this is why i think it's a fantastic investment , not only for myself and my family but also from an employers point of view.......... a healthy employee is a happy and productive one especially when he doesn't have to worry about doctors or dentist fees

    the care and treatment i have had would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds if i had been in the likes of America where profit for the HMO's comes before giving a fuck about your fellow countrymen/women and children.
    long live the NHS and even though i am not a religious man at all .. bless them for the brilliant work that they do BECAUSE THEY CARE!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:14AM (#38637442)

    From that article:

    "An American newspaper subsequently used Prof Hawking as an example of the deficiencies of the NHS. "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," it claimed."

    I think a Babbage quote fits this best (slightly adapted):

    I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a statement.

  • by BStroms ( 1875462 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @11:26AM (#38637570)

    What's sad is when I see people of all stripes debating against public healthcare, forgetting that they're condemning future thinkers or leaders or writers just because they (or their families) can't afford their own healthcare.

    I'm normally a very staunch conservative, but healthcare is one of my most liberal viewpoints. Even so, public healthcare isn't necessary to fix the US system. Nor is it a solution by itself. Unless we fix the other major issues, it won't solve the insanely cost inefficient US system. Profits and executive salaries make for a very small fraction of health care cost. (I believe less than 5% combined, although I'd have to research the exact numbers again to confirm.) There are some big issues that need to be addressed however to reign in cost. All three of the following individually add more to costs than the evil profits and executive salaries combined.

    1. Wasted administrative costs - Centralize and standardize records, billing, procedure codes, pretty much everything you can. The process should be the same regardless of who your insurance is so less staff and training needed to handle all the different procedures.

    2. Lawsuits - The cost of this is twofold and huge. First there's the actual insurance costs, which for high risk practices like neurosurgery can be astronomical. Second is the overly defensive medicine practiced. Doctors will perform more expensive tests and scans even though they know there's no need for them just so that if something does come up down the road, they've covered their rears. Mistakes happen. Caps should be put on the size of payouts against doctors and they should only have any payout if gross negligence can be proven.

    3. Fraud - Whether it's homeless people calling 911 for free room and board for night and taking an ambulance to save on cab fair, or those leaving phony names and addresses with the emergency room to skip out on the bill, fraud adds significantly to cost. It can take up bed/staff/ambulance resources that can be needed in real emergencies as well. If we could properly deal with the homeless problem, it would solve part of the issue, and universal healthcare would solve more. No need to skip the bill if you're not paying. Still, we do need to go after and prosecute serial abusers of the system.

    Now, if you solve all the issues above, I think you'll find the cost efficiency of the US system will come more in line with other countries. Then you can solve the other gaping problems without bankrupting the nation. Obviously universal healthcare, but you don't need to make it public or single payer. First regulate standard coverage that [b]must[/b] be covered by all insurance providers. Then require everyone to purchase health insurance (the government subsidizes the cost for those of low income.) There's no denial for preexisting conditions, and no dropping people or refusing to pay the mandated coverage.

    Now, insurance companies can only compete it cost and value added services, such as covering no mandatory procedures like certain cosmetic surgeries or the like. You can even have nonprofit insurance organizes like co-ops compete with banks if people are really afraid of the cost of profits.


  • by khipu ( 2511498 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:04PM (#38638008)

    What's sad is when I see people of all stripes debating against public healthcare

    What's sad is when well-meaning people push through quick fixes that are not sustainable, and then accuse others of ill will. Obama's health care plan (like NHS) has failure programmed into it: it simply is not sustainable.

    It's good that Obama's health care plan gets some people who have fallen through the cracks the help they need. You're a fool if you think his plan is sustainable. And you're a jerk for accusing others of not caring about the sick and dying.

  • by MikeBabcock ( 65886 ) <mtb-slashdot@mikebabcock.ca> on Monday January 09, 2012 @12:39PM (#38638412) Homepage Journal

    You can call it a straw man just like you can claim I'm a jellyfish. But I'm not, and my comment wasn't.

    Welcome to reality, deal with it. You can either care for the sick or not. If you choose to care for them, you have to pay for it. If you have to pay for it, you must determine how. If you don't want to have the state pay for the the health of those who cannot afford it themselves, then you've chosen not to care for them.

    Next time, present a logical rebuttal.

  • by rhakka ( 224319 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:38PM (#38639984)

    when you can use a service and pay nothing extra for it, you might forgive a person's use of the word "free". it's certainly accurate in terms of its impact on that person's life. especially when the tax is collected in proportion to your ability to pay, so it's not like it's a "fixed expense" to any given person.

    it's the ultimate insurance. everyone is in, no one is out, and there is no profit motive to denying you care, just a regard for the actual resources available. awesome.

"Say yur prayers, yuh flea-pickin' varmint!" -- Yosemite Sam