Boxing legend Muhammad Ali died of septic shock after spending five days at an Arizona hospital for what started out as respiratory problems and gradually worsened, succumbing only after his wife and children arrived at his bedside to say goodbye, a family spokesman said Saturday. “It was a solemn moment,” Bob Gunnell told reporters in Phoenix.
The details came as Ali’s family revealed plans for a Friday funeral in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, a day-long affair that will include a procession through the streets where the 74-year-old world champion grew up and learned to box.
Parkinson’s disease helped define his life for the last 32 years. Boxing may have contributed to his illness, but genetics was likely a bigger factor, experts said. Ali’s symptoms and the course of his disease were consistent with a genetic form of Parkinson’s, said Michael Okun, chairman of neurology at the University of Florida, who was a longtime Ali friend and adviser. About 10% of cases are believed to be caused directly by genetics.
There are about 1 million Parkinson’s patients in the U.S. and about 8 million worldwide. Although most patients die with Parkinson’s, rather than of Parkinson’s, it can lead to lethal falls or infections as balance and swallowing become compromised.
The course of the disease is different in everyone, but Parkinson’s often starts with a tremor on one side that occurs while the person is at rest. Symptoms are usually divided into those that affect movement – such as tremors, stiffness, slowness, walking or balance problems – and those that don’t, including constipation (which can precede the tremor), loss of smell, sleep problems and depression.
Parkinson’s can also lead to memory problems and difficulty paying attention or multitasking. Ali had most of the typical symptoms of Parkinson’s. He also had symptoms suggestive of head trauma, including slurring of his speech. Ali never complained about those symptoms, and Doctor Okun said, he never seemed defined by them. Now, Ali’s legacy will live on in the courageous way he fought for what he believed to be right, and how he fought against the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease.
Locally, the Parkinson’s Support Center provides not only information, but support groups, exercise classes, symposiums on treatment, medication management and caregivers retreats, just to name a few of the many resources for those who are battling the disease. The Center is dedicated to helping patients wage their own individual fight against Parkinson’s disease. It provides answers to questions for the newly diagnosed and long term patient.
The Staff, Board of Directors and constituents of the Parkinson Support Center extend our deepest sympathy to the Ali Family during this time of loss.
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