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Neurologist diagnosed with disease he fought, Top specialist struggles against Lou Gehrig's disease

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    Neurologist diagnosed with disease he fought, Top specialist struggles against Lou Gehrig's disease

    Neurologist diagnosed with disease he fought
    Top specialist struggles against Lou Gehrig's disease

    Jeff Chiu / AP
    Dr. Richard Olney, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, is shown here in San Francisco on Jan. 31. He was recently diagnosed with the almost always fatal affliction known as ALS.
    The Associated Press
    Updated: 3:12 p.m. ET Feb. 4, 2005SAN FRANCISCO - The shocking self-diagnosis dawned slowly but inevitably on Dr. Richard Olney, a top neurologist who dedicated his career to helping those afflicted with the fatal "Lou Gehrig's disease."

    Three surgeries to relieve a compressed disk in his back didn't solve the weakness that started in his right knee and spread to both legs. When his arms started to fail, he knew he was in the grips of a neurological disorder. Then his worst fears were realized: He had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

    "I expected to live into my 80s like my parents did," said Olney, struggling to get his words out through an amplifier resting on his lap in his motorized wheelchair at the University of California, San Francisco. "But I've done more in my 56 years than most people have done in their whole life. I can't complain too much."

    First human guinea pig in ALS drug trial
    Olney resigned last year as head of the university's renowned ALS center, which he'd founded in 1993, turning it over to his protege Dr. Cathy Lomen-Hoerth. But he's not giving up his struggle against the disease, which mystifies experts today as much as it did when New York Yankee slugger Lou Gehrig died of it in 1941.

    He's signed on as the first human guinea pig in a trial of two drugs that slowed the disease's progress in mice, and he's also using the time he has left to raise awareness and money to combat ALS.

    Olney was famous for spending countless hours counseling patients, and that spirit lives on at the ALS center, where Lomen-Hoerth said she tries to summon the same soothing words and advice as she attends to her own patients - who now include Olney.

    UCSF has set up a fund in Olney's name and he intends to continue his campaign - doing interviews and agreeing to stay in the public eye - until his strength gives out. Olney's health has rapidly declined since he was diagnosed in June.

    "He spent his life trying to make a difference in this disease," his wife of 30 years, Paula, said..

    ~ Choices Are The Hinges Of Destiny ~