The British historian Tony Judt, considered to be one of the most important political writers of his time, died last Friday after a two-year struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Judt, a native of London, was 62.
Tony Judt specialized in European history and was the Erich Maria Remarque Professor in European Studies at New York University and Director of NYU’s Erich Maria Remarque Institute. In 2006, he was Pulitzer finalist for his epic history of Europe since 1945, Postwar. Last year, Judt was awarded a special Orwell Prize for Lifetime Achievement for his contribution to British political writing.
Despite his illness, Judt continued teaching and imparting knowledge, granting interviews and writing at the New York Review of Books. In recent essay called “Night”, Judt discussed the condition that had left him a quadriplegic, unable to perform almost any muscular action, including breathing, on his own. “There I lie, trussed, myopic, and motionless like a modern-day mummy, alone in my corporeal prison, accompanied for the rest of the night only by my thoughts.”
Tony Judt was thrice married. He is survived by his wife and their two sons.
What is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rapidly progressive, invariably fatal neurological disease that attacks the neurons (nerve cells) responsible for controlling voluntary muscles.
Symptoms of ALS can include twitching and cramping of muscles (called fasciculation), stiffness in muscles (spasticity), increasing loss of motor control in hands and arms and legs, weakness and fatigue, slurred or thick speech and difficulty breathing or swallowing. Although symptoms and the rate of disease progression vary from person to person, eventually all muscles under voluntary control are affected, and patients lose their strength and the ability to move their arms, legs, and body. The disease usually does not affect cognitive abilities and patients are aware of their progressive loss of function. Most people with ALS die from respiratory failure, usually within three to five years from the onset of symptoms. However, about 10 percent of ALS patients survive for 10 or more years.
Currently there is only a single therapy approved for treating ALS progression: the drug Rilutek (riluzole). Rilutek has an accepted, modest benefit estimated to be a three-month extension in patient survival.
Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, ALS Therapy Development