Lou Gehrig, the former New York Yankee, is a symbol of inspiration and courage for many Americans, especially those with loved ones fighting progressive or degenerative diseases such as the condition which now bears his name. Yet, as our Chicago brain injury lawyers explain, a new study in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neuropathology reveals that athletes (and others) who have been diagnosed with or even died from Lou Gehrig’s Disease may have been misdiagnosed. The paper, which was peer-reviewed before publication, reaches the shocking conclusion that traumatic brain injury (TBI), including concussions and other sports injuries, can mimic Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Lou Gehrig’s disease, technically known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., is a disease affecting the brain and spinal cord, which control voluntary muscle movement. This leads to problems with strength and coordination, and eventually progresses into the inability to perform basic tasks (sitting, standing), and eventually death.
The study was prompted by reports from the doctors at the Boston University School of Medicine, who serve as the principal researchers looking into brain damage in former NFL players who have passed away, and at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center of Bedford, Massachusetts. These doctors reported that they had found interesting results in two NFL players and one boxer. All three men had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, but had markings in their spines showing that they, in fact, did not have the disease. Instead, they were suffering from a different fatal disease – one caused by traumatic brain injury, and which erodes the nervous system in ways that mimic Lou Gehrig’s disease.
These findings help to explain why athletes and veterans are diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease at rates significantly higher than the general population. Indeed, NFL players are diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease at a rate eight times that of the general population. Likewise, in 2005, a study found that in Italy, professional soccer players are diagnosed with the disease at a rate six times that of the general population. U.S. Soldiers also have an elevated rate of Lou Gehrig’s diagnoses.
If you have suffered a traumatic brain injury (mild to severe), and were then diagnosed with A.L.S., it may be worth reexamining your condition. If you were misdiagnosed, your treatment can be altered to help you cope with the condition you actually have. Moreover, depending on the circumstances surrounding your brain injury, you may have a cause of action that can help you defray the costs of managing your condition. Our Chicago brain injury lawyers can help you analyze your specific situation and help you determine what action you want to take.
This study, with its profound implications, should have an immediate effect on diagnoses in athletes and veterans. Once the true nature of their disease is understood, they can be more appropriately treated – and, with further research and commitment, perhaps even saved. These findings should also help advance the search for effective treatments for Lou Gehrig’s disease itself, as it will eliminate from studies and data those who do not actually have the disease.
Lou Gehrig himself sustained multiple traumatic brain injuries. For example, in a 1934 game against the Norfolk Tars, the Yankee great was hit in the head by a fastball, above his eye. He was left unconscious, and had to be helped off the field after he came to. In fact, Gehrig had a history of repeated concussions and other traumatic brain injuries. This is only in his baseball career – historians suspect that he also suffered traumatic brain injury during his years as a halfback in high school and college football. Because Gehrig’s remains were cremated, we will never know whether he in fact died from the disease that bears his name.
In addition to Lou Gehrig himself, other famous victims of the disease include theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Hawking’s disease has often been described as “atypical,” however, because he has lived far longer than expected. Notably, it has been reported that the first “sign” of Hawking’s Lou Gehrig’s disease was when he lost his balance, fell down a flight of stairs, and hit his head. His case could thus be reexamined, as well.
Gehrig, who is famous for his streak of 2,130 games over 14 years, was also notorious for his “commitment” to playing through concussions, traumatic brain injuries, and other injuries. We now know that his legendary “toughness” is better described as foolhardiness, or even stupidity. This new study confirms what our Chicago brain injury attorneys have been saying all along – playing sports with a brain injury is an unacceptable risk. Professional athletes should never take this risk, for their own sake and for the sake of the example they set for our young people. And young people who are encouraged or ordered to “play through” even mild brain injury, and who suffer long-term consequences up to and including Lou Gehrig’s disease may have a cause of action.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.