ROCHESTER, Minn. - Seventy-five years ago, Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with the rare, neurological disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) at the Mayo Clinic.
On July 4th, 1939, he gave his famous farewell speech to baseball fans.
Doctors now have a better understanding of the fatal disease but apart from medication that may give someone an extra couple of months, there is still no good way to extend someone's life.
Mayo Clinic researchers are working with stem cells to develop a new treatment. A New Brighton woman hopes to benefit.
Linda Leight spends every minute she can with her eight grandchildren. They visit her often at her home.
Time with grandchildren is always precious, but even more so for her because just like baseball legend Gehrig, Leight has ALS.
The disease that eventually paralyzes nearly all muscles in the body has started with her voice. Her speech was smooth and quick a few years ago. Now it is slow and slurred.
ALS causes neurons which control muscles to die, eventually making most ALS patients unable to breathe. Linda was diagnosed last September.
"We were devastated," she said.
Her husband, Jerry Leight, said now, "It's in the back of my mind, what am I going to do when she's not there?"
So Leight, with her husband by her side, enrolled in a Mayo Clinic study three months ago, testing the safety of taking stem cells from a patient's own fat and injecting them into their spinal fluid.
Mayo Clinic neurologist, Dr. Nathan Staff, is an investigator for the ALS stem cell trial.
"We're hopeful that the stem cells will provide a protection for the neurons that remain in the spinal cord and the brain and hopefully slow down the disease and prolong lifespan," he said.
While this phase one study is just testing the safety of the procedure right now, Linda hopes maybe the treatment will work too.
"My hope is that I could gain some time," she said.
Just like Lou Gehrig, she has her own baseball card, from the ALS Association, to raise awareness.
Even if the research doesn't help her, she sees participating in ALS research as a way to get experts one step closer to helping her children's and grandchildren's generations.
As she embraced her grandchildren in a group hug at her home, she said with a big smile, "I love them."