Roberta Flack, a legendary soul singer, recently revealed that she has ALS, a rare progressive neurological disease that has rendered her vocally incapable.
Ms. Flack, 85, a Grammy-winning musician originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, is best known for her versions of the No. 1 singles "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" (1973) and "Killing Me Softly with His Song" (1974), which have since become romantic standards.
The heartbreaking news occurs just before Roberta, a new documentary on her life and career, which will be shown at the DOC NYC film festival in New York, premieres.
The ailment has rendered it "difficult" for Ms. Flack to sing and "not easy" for her to speak, according to her manager, Suzanne Koga. However, she added defiantly: "It will take a lot more than ALS to silence this icon."
The disease known as ALS, whose name is derived from the Greek and refers to the wasting away of the muscles that regulate voluntary movement due to malnutrition and the result of a genetic mutation, affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
Motor neurons connect the brain to the spinal cord and the spinal cord to all of the muscles in the body, according to the ALS Association. Motor neurons in ALS eventually die due to their gradual deterioration.
"The brain's capacity to initiate and regulate muscular action is lost when the motor neurons die. People may lose their capacity to speak, eat, move, and breathe if voluntary muscular activity is gradually compromised.
The motor neurons that produce voluntary motions and muscle control are damaged by ALS in the motor nerves. Making the effort to reach for a smartphone or step off a curb are two examples of voluntary motions. The muscles in the arms and legs are responsible for controlling these movements.
The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINDS) lists the following as early signs of the disease: muscle twitches in the arm, leg, shoulder, or tongue; cramps; tight or stiff muscles; muscle weakness; slurred or nasal speech; and difficulties eating and swallowing.
The NINDS explains that the initial sign of ALS typically manifests in the hand or arm and can manifest as difficulties performing routine actions like writing, buttoning a garment, or turning a lock key.
Other times, only one leg is initially affected by symptoms. People may feel awkward when running or walking, or they may trip or fall more frequently.
Although there is presently no cure for ALS, four medications—Riluzole, Nuedexta, Radicava, and Tiglutik—have been licenced by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat the illness and lessen the suffering of those who experience it.
In honour of the famous New York Yankees baseman who also had it (1903–41), Lou Gehrig's disease was given its common name in 1869 by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot.
While ALS affects all demographics, it is most prevalent in people between the ages of 55 and 75. Some studies also suggest that it disproportionately affects former members of the armed forces, possibly as a result of their exposure to toxic substances while serving, though this has not been proven.
According to the ALS Association, only a 50% chance exists that the genetic mutation that causes ALS will be passed on to future generations in the 90% of cases when there is no family history of the condition.