On Wednesday, the MLB will celebrate Lou Gehrig Day honoring one of the game’s greatest while also raising awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the fatal disease that claimed his life on this date in 1941 at age 37 and is often referred to by his name.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells and the spinal cord. There are two types of ALS, sporadic, which is the most common form in the U.S., and familial, which means it is inherited, according to ALS.org. Scientists have yet to determine what the exact cause of the disease is.
The disease, which is always fatal, causes patients’ brains to lose connection with muscles, eventually robbing them of the ability to walk, talk, eat and eventually breathe. Symptoms may start with difficulty walking or doing normal activities, with patients tripping, or feeling weakness in the legs or feet. Muscle twitches or cramps, or having trouble grasping objects may also be a sign.
The disease is often diagnosed by ruling out other causes of symptoms, as there is no specific ALS test.
It usually strikes between the ages of 40 and 70, with an average life expectancy of two to five years after diagnosis. According to ALS.org, about 5,000 people are diagnosed with ALS each year.
Despite having been discovered in 1869, there is currently no cure for the disease, and only four drugs have received FDA approval to treat ALS. In recent years, several fundraising efforts like the “Ice Bucket Challenge” which raised over $100 million for research have shed light on the disease and the thousands living with it.
On Wednesday, baseball players will wear a commemorative “4-ALS” patch on their uniforms in honor of the player nicknamed the “Iron Horse,” who wore number 4 as the New York Yankees starting first baseman.