Figure. Shedding new light on the world's most famous Parkinson's patient
Muhammad Ali has been photographed, quoted and written about more than anyone in the world. Yet for all those words and pictures, few people have ever seen him as he is portrayed in these pages — through the pen of award-winning reporter Wallace Matthews and the lens of celebrated photographer Neil Leifer.
Our cover story extends Muhammad Ali's legacy as a sports legend and cultural icon to add another courageous facet: the world's most famous Parkinson's patient.
Even Wally Matthews, a veteran boxing writer, found himself learning new things about the man he knows well enough to address as “Champ.”
“I've known the public Ali my whole life and I've known him personally for more than 20 years, but there was still a private side to him that only his closest confidantes could know,” Wally told us. “I thought I knew everything there was to know about him, but in reporting this story, I found that I'd hardly scratched the surface.”
What results is the poignant story of how Muhammad Ali inspires Parkinson's patients even as his symptoms have progressed. It's the story of a champion whose battles endure well beyond the ring.
To tell it as it's never been told, Wally interviewed Dr. Stanley Fahn — one of the world's leading Parkinson's experts, a past president of the American Academy of Neurology, and the specialist who diagnosed Ali 22 years ago. Having had the privilege of working with Dr. Fahn, I know firsthand that he has worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson's through his own research program, advocacy efforts and the outstanding clinical care he provides.
Although he hasn't treated Muhammad Ali in a long time, Dr. Fahn's vast experience with Parkinson's patients gives him insight into Ali's current condition. So even though Parkinson's has stilled Ali's voice and slowed his movements, Dr. Fahn wasn't surprised to hear that the former heavyweight champion still works out at home.
In fact, when you turn the page, you'll see that our cover story opens with a compelling photo of Ali hitting the heavy bag in his gym. The shot was taken in 2001 by Neil Leifer, who recalls how Ali “lit up” during this one of the many photo sessions they've had over their 40-year friendship.
Dr. Fahn says many Parkinson's patients can overcome “freezing” with the right trigger, because the disease does not cause muscle weakness but rather interferes with the brain's initiation of movement. He tells the story of “a patient in the World Trade Center on 9/11 who went down 54 flights of stairs with everyone else, at the same rate, until he was out,” and then became slow and stiff again. That's why finding the right triggers for individual patients, and an exercise program, can help overcome immobility problems.
I hope you enjoy reading the Muhammad Ali story as much as I did. But it doesn't stop there.
We bring you a Special Report that commemorates the 100th anniversary of Dr. Alois Alzheimer's discovery of the disease now named after him. Literally a century to the month since his April 1906 discovery, we offer an Alzheimer's disease progress report on state-of-the-art scientific breakthroughs. The report puts you on the cutting edge of research into causes, diagnosis and treatment — and gives you a glimpse of where it's going in the next century. One article explores brain imaging to identify the disease at its earliest stages. Another examines whether the new diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment is a prelude to Alzheimer's. And the closing piece examines the way scientists are taking new discoveries and translating them into treatments designed to halt the disease, and one day even cure it.
Robin L. Brey, M.D., Editor-in-Chief