Stephen Hawking is a name widely associated with scientific discovery and extensive research into black holes and relativity. However, he is also known for his battle against a rare motor neurone disease that has left him almost entirely crippled. He also has to speak using a voice synthesizer, although this is not directly linked to his disease which is a common misconception. Despite being given only 2 or 3 years to live when he was first diagnosed with the disease in his early twenties, Hawking has survived nearly 50 years with a disease that kills most people within 10 years.

symptoms of the disease

The symptoms of the disease, which sufferers are born with, first appeared while Stephen Hawking was at the University of Cambridge. Having lost his balance, Hawking tumbled down a flight of stairs and hit his head. He was then diagnosed with motor neurone disease, being told that he would not survive more than two or three years.

By 1974 he was unable to get out of bed or even feed himself and his speech was understood only by those around him that knew him well. However, Hawking did not lose his speech until 1985. While visiting CERN in Geneva, he contracted pneumonia and, because of the danger that was pronounced due to his poor respiratory capacity, an emergency tracheotomy was performed. His loss of voice was as a result of this emergency procedure.

Stephen Hawking’s speech generating device

A speech generating device was produced for Hawking in Cambridge which allowed him to effectively speak through slight movements of his cheek. These movements were then translated into speech. While improved models and different voices are available, Stephen Hawking has said that he has yet to find a voice or synthesizer that he prefers and so he has stuck with the original, fragile box.

Stephen Hawking certainly hasn’t let his illness prevent him from amassing a huge list of achievements. As well as his professional achievements, Hawking has starred in shows like Red Dwarf, Star Trek, and the Big Bang Theory. He has been referenced in many more and has even, with his daughter Lucy Hawking, penned a children’s book.