The amazing physicist Stephen Hawking died this week. His passing will hit the geek community hard. I learned about it when I checked work chat while commuting on the bus and read my colleagues’ conversation. To say he revealed a lot of revolutionary aspects of our universe seems like an understatement. Many of the science fans I know, myself included, followed news of his discoveries and work with great interest. My introduction to him was probably when my college advisor suggested reading his book A Brief History of Time for research for my religion and philosophy degree’s thesis. I appreciated the opportunity to mix some pleasure reading with academic research.
Hawking was not just famous for his scientific talents. Diagnosed with motor neuron disease in his early twenties while he was at college, doctors thought he would die within a few years. He lived for decades, despite the disease robbing him of his ability to move over time. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neuron disease, is one of the conditions at the heart of PatientsLikeMe. Through people sharing their medical data via PatientsLikeMe, maybe we’ll not only improve treatments, but we'll' know more in the future about why a few people with MND, like Hawking, live for decades while so many others perish within a few years.
Last year, PatientsLikeMe kicked off a campaign to inspire people to talk about how we are more than our conditions: #MoreThan. As a colleague commented, Hawking was definitely more than motor neuron disease. To us outsiders, it seems his condition couldn’t hold his mind back. He took advantage of his capabilities to keep learning and researching and writing and fathering and teaching. News organizations have quoted him saying he tried to make the most of his time because he thought it was going to be short. Lucky for us, it was longer than the few years doctors predicted.