Jason Becker: Living with ALS

Jason Becker ALS

Jason Becker after Illness

About Jason Becker

Jason Eli Becker (born July 22, 1969) started playing guitar at the age of 5 years old and was already a guitar hero by the age of 20 (1989) when he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) which slowly robbed him of his ability to walk, play guitar and speak. After a year of release of his 1st solo album “Perpetual Burn“, Becker joined David Lee Roth’s band as a lead guitarist in place of Steve Vai. It was at this time that he developed “lazy limp” in his leg and was later diagnosed with ALS and given a maximum of 5 years to live. By the time he was recording “Perspective (1996)” he had already developed severe weakness in his hands and had to switch to slower stuffs as he couldn’t make his fingers dance on the fretboard like before. A track titled “End of the Beginning” from the same album is considered as Becker’s one of the deepest and most meaningful compositions.

“I have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. It has crippled my body and speech, but not my mind.” – Jason Becker

“One night I dreamed I was running. When I woke up I forgot I had a limp, so I walked totally normal until I remembered, “oh, yeah, I have a limp”. Then I immediately stumbled. That showed me that if you have control over your mind, you can do anything.” – Jason Becker

Amazingly, he has surpassed his estimated date of death long back and has been living with the disease for more than 20 years now. Only through the movement of his eyes, aided by the communication chart developed by his father and a software named “Logic Pro”, he continues to compose music and is able to communicate with the world. He has written several beautiful pieces of music, which has been played by renowned musicians like Steve Vai, Marty Friedman, Rustey Cooley, Joe Satriani, etc. His medical condition has remained stable since past few years, which is very rare for ALS. He continues to be a massive influence on several musicians today.

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About the Disease:

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Charcoat’s disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease is characterized by progressive muscle weakness and atrophy caused by progressive degeneration of motor neurons in the motor cortex and spinal cord, affecting both upper (brain to spinal cord) and lower motor neurons (spinal cord to muscles). ALS doesn’t affect mental functioning, senses (like seeing or hearing), cardiac muscles, smooth muscles (like in stomach, urinary bladder, etc.) and usually the function of eye muscles are also retained.

Amyotrophy = Muscle atrophy or muscle loss
Lateral Sclerosis = Hardening of the anterior and lateral columns of the spinal cord as motor neurons in these areas degenerate and are replaced by fibrous astrocytes (gliosis)

The LMN (Lower motor neuron) signs of muscle wasting, weakness and fasciculation occur due to the destruction of anterior horn cells of the spinal cord and of the cell bodies of motor cranial nerve nuclei.

The UMN (Upper motor neuron) signs of spasticity, hyper­reflexia, and pathologic reflexes such as the Hoffman sign and Babinski sign occur due to the destruction of motor neurons in the brain and the cor­ticospinal.

Source: http://hy-q.com/cooper/pdf/NCS%20Exam/Neurology%2009.pdf

Progression of Symptoms
  • Usually muscle weakness in one or both hands, arms, or legs is seen initially with gradual involvement of muscles of speech (slurred speech), swallowing and breathing.
  • Twitching (fasciculation) and cramping of muscles in limbs
  • Loss of ability to use arms and legs and difficulty in projecting the voice in advanced stage
  • Swallowing and coughing become more difficult, with the likelihood that aspiration of food and saliva into the lungs can occur.
  • Due to the development of muscle weakness, respiratory problems are the most serious complication. Pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, lung failure, and heart failure are the most common causes of death among people with ALS.
Source:
People with ALS can generally live 3 to 5 years after diagnosis.
Currently, it is thought that the disease is somehow genetically programmed (mutation of specific gene on chromosome 21 has been established in some cases) but the cause for the disease has not been completely understood and there is no treatment available to halt or reverse the disease.

2 Comments
  1. January 8, 2010
  2. June 23, 2010

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