It began with a case of what is known as "drop foot." In early 2009, La Cañada Flintridge resident Bonnie Hine found herself unable to flex her toes, and then her ankle, in the routine motions used during walking.
Her balance suffered, and she found herself falling while performing common household tasks. The problems persisted, and Hine, 68, knew that whatever was going on, it was more than the result of natural aging.
She repeatedly searched the Internet for clues to her symptoms and eventually made an appointment with a neurologist. After a battery of examinations and tests, she was given a definitive diagnosis — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, so named for the baseball star who succumbed to it in 1941.
"Anybody who has ALS knows the date [of their diagnosis]," Hine said. "It is just horrendous — Nov. 3, 2009."
A progressive neurodegenerative disease, Lou Gehrig's affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Patients lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement. Eventually they are left paralyzed, unable to swallow or breathe. The life expectancy is two to five years from diagnosis.