Such a sadness to lose Dwight Clark at such a young age!

One of the greatest moments in the history of sports was the 1981 NFC Championships between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers.

With just 58 seconds to play in the 4th quarter, Joe Montana was about to be buried by Ed “Too-Tall” Jones. Montana faked his pass, causing Jones to leap prematurely. Unable to see past the huge man, Joe fired a bullet to where he hoped Dwight Clark would be. The pass was high, but Clark leaped for it, stretching, stretching… and sunk his fingers into the ball, coming down into athletic history.

I was there, and “the Catch” looked easy — only afterwards, when it was replayed millions of times, could it be seen what an athletic miracle it was….

Just days ago, Dwight Clark announced that he had ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, motor neuron disease, called Lou Gehrig’s disease in America.

Another world class athlete, Lou Gehrig, the great New York Yankee baseball player, was called the “Iron Horse” because he always stayed in top condition, never failing to start a game. Inexplicably, he began losing control of the ball. Throwing, catching and hitting — his coordination was destroyed. He trained harder, saw doctors; but nothing helped. (1)

Few know how he spent his last months, serving as a probation officer, working with ex-cons, trying to give them the second chance he would not have himself. When Lou Gehrig died, America knew about ALS motor neuron disease.

ALS kills the nerve cells which control motion. Gradually, over a period of several years, the body loses its ability to move: even to swallow, and, finally, to breathe.

“I lost two sons to ALS,” said Diane Winokur, ICOC board member, and a champion patient advocate for research to cure this devastating disease. Fragile-looking, but with a will of iron, Ms. Winokur has worked decades, and now at last she has seen the scientists bring a pinpoint of light to what was darkness before.

CIRM scientists are seeking to more clearly “understand the origin of the disease” and what causes (the death of) motor neurons…” (3) They must know the enemy, cells literally oozing toxin, damaging the nerve cells which control motion.

And the path to cure? One promising possibility: “(Our) scientists learned how to take…cells and turn them into motor neurons (for possible replacement).”

If new and healthy nerve cells are introduced into the body, they may replace the damaged ones, and reverse the downward spiral to paralysis and death.

None of this happens without money. The California stem cell program has provided $55 million in research funding, toward the cure of ALS. Such funding makes possible the work of top scientists (and their lab teams!) champions like: Larry Goldstein, Bin Chen, Clive Svendsen, Eugene Yeo, Bennett Novitch, Ying Liu, Steven Finkbeiner, Zack Jerome, and more. They work at world-class research institutions like: the University of California at San Diego, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the J. David Gladstone Institutes, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies — all institutes benefiting from a CIRM relationship.

Dwight Clark gave joy to uncountable millions of sports fans.

The battle against ALS will go on, and we will remember the man who enshrined “the Catch” into the halls of sports history.

And perhaps, something that happened just a year ago may honor his memory by fighting for cure…

On July 20, 2017, the California stem cell program “board voted to invest $15.9 million in a Phase 3 clinical trial run by Brainstorm Cell Therapeutics…using mesenchymal stem cells…from the patient’s own bone marrow…modified…to boost production of…proteins (which) help support and protect cells destroyed by ALS… a therapy called NurOwn…” — Kevin McCormack, Communications Director, CIRM

“These two trials that CIRM is now funding represent breakthrough moments for me and for everyone touched by ALS…” –Diane Winokur (5)






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