Pols want to investigate if Lou Gehrig died of Lou Gehrig’s disease

Martin Rogers
Big League Stew

More than 70 years after Lou Gehrig's death, a group of legislators have launched a bid to investigate whether the baseball icon really died of the disease that carries his name.

Gehrig passed away in 1941 at the age of 37, following a Hall of Fame career with the New York Yankees which saw him play 2,130 consecutive games and win the American League Triple Crown in 1934. It has always been assumed his cause of death was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or what became known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

However, some Minnesota lawmakers are aiming to free up access to Gehrig's medical records in the interests of developing further scientific knowledge about a disease that has recently sparked contentious debate in the medical and sports communities.

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A 2010 study suggested head trauma may be a significant factor contributing to symptoms similar to those found in ALS sufferers. Even though experts are adamant that unlocking Gehrig's records would not provide enough evidence to be a real value, a group of politicians led by Minnesota Democratic Rep. Phyllis Kahn are determined to press ahead.

"It is ridiculous not to look at them," Kahn told the Associated Press.

The issue hinges on Minnesota law, which protects the privacy of a patient's records. Kahn believes once a patient has been dead for more than 50 years, the records should be made public unless there is opposition from a surviving relative or a provision made in the person's will.

Kahn believes that because Gehrig suffered from several concussions during his career and was on the Columbia University football team, doctors should have the opportunity to look at whether head trauma played any role in his physical decline.

However, her attempts are being thwarted by the Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic, which holds Gehrig's records and is refusing to release them, claiming a patient's information should remain private even after death. Gehrig has no surviving relatives who could authorize the release of his records.

While the Mayo Clinic is holding its ground, both Kahn and Gehrig's biographer, Jonathan Eig, claim the Hall of Famer would be in favor of anything that may have a chance of leading to improved knowledge and research on a medical condition.

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"My hunch is that he would be all in favor of public disclosure," said Eig, who attempted but failed to access the records for his biography of Gehrig. Eig also told the AP the baseball star submitted himself to various tests to further research into ALS.

Given that Kahn's track record in seeking new legislation shows she is a fan of long shots — she once attempted to lower the Minnesota voting age to 12 — the chances of Gehrig's records being revealed anytime soon may be slim.

Until then, the question remains: Did Lou Gehrig really die of Lou Gehrig's Disease?

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