As National Chairman of The British Polio Fellowship, I was interested to read Professor Christopher Cooper of the University of California’s suggestion that celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking was misdiagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and was in fact a victim of Polio and Post Polio Syndrome (PPS) in his later life.
While Hawkins’ symptoms do indeed fit with having had Polio and the degenerative effects of PPS, symptom progression doesn’t quite match. ALS normally starts in later life; but Polio symptoms are usually immediate at the time of infection. Symptoms stabilise to further deteriorate often many years or even decades later, with the onset of PPS, as 120,000 of us can attest to. Hawking experienced continuous deterioration and worsening symptoms, not typical of a Post Polio diagnosis. What we can say for sure, however, is Hawking inspired millions of us to live independent and fulfuilling lives, irrespective of disability. What this question of Polio, PPS or ALS throws up is the need for increased awareness of all neurological conditions.
If you are one of 120,000 people in the UK struggling to get a PPS diagnosis or struggling with life after a diagnosis, we can help. Visist www.britishpolio.org.uk or call us on 0800 043 1935.
National Chairman, The British Polio Fellowship