ALS ... Claims Catfish Hunter

Jim "Catfish" Hunter, the Hall of Fame hurler who helped the Oakland A's and the New York Yankees win six pennants in the 1970's, pitched a perfect game and was part of an economic revolution in sports as the first big-money free agent, died on Sept. 9, 1999 at his home at Hertford, North Carolina of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

ALS is a classic motor neuron disease. Motor neuron diseases are progressive chronic diseases of the nerves that come from the spinal cord responsible for supplying electrical stimulation to the muscles. This stimulation is necessary for the movement of body parts.

Lou Gehrig's Disease

Since amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is quite a mouthful, it is often referred to as ALS. It is also called "Lou Gehrig's disease" after the teammate of Babe Ruth who developed it and died from it. The movie "Pride of the Yankees" starring Gary Cooper, told Gehrig's tragic and triumphant life story.

ALS tends to strike in mid-life, most often in the fifth through seventh decades of life. Men are about one-and-a-half times more likely to have the disease than women. It is estimated to affect about 20,000 Americans. There are about 5,000 new cases in the United States every year.

The disease process occurs when specific nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary movement gradually degenerate. The loss of these motor neurons causes the muscles under their control to weaken and waste away, leading to paralysis. The cause of this disease process is still unknown.

ALS manifests itself in many different ways, depending on which muscles weaken first. Symptoms may include tripping and falling, loss of motor control in hands and arms, difficulty speaking, swallowing and/or breathing, persistent fatigue, and twitching and cramping.