One of the most famous cosmologists in the world, Stephen Hawking, is set to turn 70 years old this Sunday, but experts are still puzzled as to how he has managed to survive this long with his disease.
Hawking was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease when he was 21 while studying at Cambridge University in England. Most people that develop this motor neurone disease do not live past a few years of the diagnosis and only 10 percent of patients with the condition live longer than a single decade.
The British physicist, however, has defied all expectations by surviving close to five decades, Science & Technology reported.
Ammar Al-Chalabi, director of the Motor Neurone Disease Care and Research Center at King's College in London, described Hawking’s longevity as "extraordinary," and shared that he does not know of anyone who has managed to survive this long with Lou Gehrig's disease.
"He is truly remarkable," the director added. "This is someone who's managed to find ways around every single problem the disease has thrown at him."
On Sunday, to mark Hawking's birthday, Cambridge University will be hosting a public symposium on one of the subject matters the scientist has devoted his research to, mainly the state of the universe. Hawking himself will be present at the discussion, which will feature 27 other leading scientists.
The cosmologist’s 1988 book A Brief History of Time, which presented an overview of the universe, sold more than 10 million copies and gained him national attention.
Today, Hawking can only communicate by twitching his right cheek, and sensors detect his cheek pulses and allow him to select words on a computer screen to form sentences, which are then spoken by a voice synthesizer. His body has been nearly entirely paralyzed since 1970.
The British scientist, who has been vocal about God, heaven and the afterlife, told the Guardian in May 2011: "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."