What do Michelle Obama and Captain Beefheart have in common?

During  her August 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama shared her experiences with multiple sclerosis (MS): Mrs. Obama’s father was diagnosed with the disease when he was in his early thirties.  Last week rock legend Captain Beefheart, 69, died after struggling with MS for many years.

As Mrs. Obama said in her speech: “My Dad was our rock. Although he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his early thirties, he was our provider, our champion, our hero. But as he got sicker, it got harder for him to walk, it took him longer to get dressed in the morning. But if he was in pain, he never let on. He never stopped smiling and laughing — even while struggling to button his shirt, even while using two canes to get himself across the room to give my Mom a kiss. He just woke up a little earlier, and worked a little harder.”

Michele Obama is, of course, only one of many people whose lives have been touched by MS.  Here’s a partial list of entertainers with MS: actors Terri Garr, David “Squiggy” Lander, TV personality Montel Williams, Annette Funicello, singers Lena Horne and Clay Walker, comedian Richard Pryor. MS affects an estimated 300,000 people in the United States and is the most common cause of neurological disability in young adults.

Last week, it was reported that Don Van Vliet, otherwise know by his rock legend persona Captain Beefheart passed away at the age of 69 from complications of MS after many years with the disease. According to Rolling Stone, “… the incomparable Captain Beefheart who, together with his Magic Band, rose to prominence in the 1960s with a totally unique style of blues-inspired, experimental rock & roll. This would ultimately secure Van Vliet’s place in music history as one of the most original recording artists of his time. After two decades in the spotlight as an avant-garde composer and performer, Van Vliet retired from performing to devote himself wholeheartedly to painting and drawing. Like his music, Van Vliet’s lush paintings are the product of a truly rare and unique vision.”

Below President Obama is shown holding Captain Beefheart’s 1969 album Trout Mask Replica.

Photo credit: Oscars Wild Years

UPDATE 21-Oct-2011
According to Xconomy:
“Weston, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) announced today that it has received conditional approval from the European Commission to market the long-acting version of fampridine (Fampyra) to adult patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) who have walking disability. The drug was developed and commercialized in the United States by Hawthorne, NY-based Acorda Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ACOR). As part of the approval, the agency has asked Biogen to perform a study to assess the drug’s benefits beyond improving walking speed—a request that’s consistent with post-marketing research plans already in place, the company says.”

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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