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Ex-Senate leader Basnight has Lou Gehrig's disease

Posted February 13, 2012

— Marc Basnight, the most powerful state senator for most of the past two decades, has Lou Gehrig's disease, a fatal degenerative illness.

Basnight, 64, retired from the state Senate a year ago, saying he was suffering from a disease that affected his balance and speech, which would hinder his ability to engage in floor debates. He said at the time that doctors hadn't yet identified the illness.

Neurologist Dr. Benjamin Brooks, who is treating Basnight at Carolinas Medical Center, said Monday it was a tough case to diagnose.

"He's seen many doctors, and I think he's evolved very slowly, fortunately," Brooks said.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease because it afflicted the former New York Yankees star, is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement.

According to the National Institutes of Health, ALS causes the nerve cells to waste away or die, so they can no longer send messages to muscles. This eventually leads to muscle weakening, twitching and an inability to move the arms, legs and body. When the muscles in the chest area stop working, it becomes hard or impossible to breathe on one's own.

There is no known cure for the disease, which affects about five out of every 100,000 people worldwide.

Brooks said he expects Basnight's condition to continue moving slowly because it's a form of ALS that responds well to drug therapy. He's been treating it since 2010.

"One can't prognosticate perfectly in this situation, but he is stable in many respects of his function and has had only minor weakness in his fingers right now," Brooks said.

Basnight, a Dare County Democrat, served in the Senate for 26 years, including 18 as president pro tem, which gave him control over the movement of legislation in the chamber.

Rand: Basnight handling diagnosis gracefully Rand: Basnight handling diagnosis gracefully

Former Sen. Tony Rand was Basnight's right-hand man for much of that time, and the two have been close friends for decades. Rand said he first noticed changes in Basnight several years ago.

"You could tell his voice started becoming a little different," he said. "(There was) no problem with his mental processes."

Basnight has been traveling with his fiancee and enjoying time with his family in Manteo, Rand said, noting that his old friend is handling the diagnosis well.

"This is a part of life, an unpleasant part, but one that he faces with determination and with humor and as he's viewed most things in his life," he said.

Sen. Phil Berger, who succeeded Basnight as president pro tem, said he was saddened to hear of his former colleague's diagnosis.

"I know Marc is a fighter, and I'm confident he will combat this illness with the energy and resolve he showed fighting for the people of North Carolina," said Berger, R-Rockingham.

35 Comments

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  • bubbasu12 Feb 14, 1:33 p.m.

    In February of 2010 I lost my husband of 42+ years to ALS.I watched and cared for him daily.He could no longer move, talk, swallow,write,he could do nothing for himself. Yet his brilliant mind remained as sharp as ever. It was torture to watch this wonderful man die a little more each day. This disease is not about this man's profession or political viewsit is about being a human being . I wish him and his family the strength and courage they will need in the days to coem.

  • leslie0694 Feb 14, 12:58 p.m.

    God bless him and his family

  • CarolinianByChoice Feb 14, 12:53 p.m.

    Lost my most beloved Grandmother to this most horrific disease in 1983 . . prayers go out to you and your family Mr. Basnight

  • SecondChanceMan Feb 13, 7:42 p.m.

    Yep... my granny died from ALS... The politician disgusts me... but the man... doesn't deserve to go out like that...

  • frankt Feb 13, 7:40 p.m.

    Sen. Basnight talks about his disease and his career in a two part profile at "Coastal Review Online," a new coastal news and feature service that first reported this story when it launched today. You can read the profile at www.nccoast.org.

  • rbfrick Feb 13, 7:30 p.m.

    I lost my husband Oct. 20, 2011. He was diagnosed on 6/29/11 and gone less than 4 months later. His ALS was extremely progressive. It is an awful disease. No one should belittle the disease because it's terminal and a extremely horrible disease. Try laying still for 10 minutes, no movement at all. You can't move any body part or your eyes. You can stop anytime after the trial but not the ALS patient.

    My prayers go out to Mr. Basnight and his family. God bless and keep you. My prayers and thoughts will be with you.

  • dgarygrady2 Feb 13, 6:34 p.m.

    @ AMazeder: Motor neurone disease is the British term for ALS.

  • cocker_mom Feb 13, 6:26 p.m.

    I met Sen Basnight at his restaurant shortly after his wife passed away. I am sorry for his diagnosis - this is a lot of tragedy for this family and regardless of his politics - wish him the best.

  • MindBomb Feb 13, 6:20 p.m.

    AMazeder: Motor Neuron Disease is the British English term for ALS. They are the same disease, just different names :)
    My father passed away 2 years ago from ALS. It is probably the worst disease I have ever seen a human suffer from. I am not overly familiar with Basnights work, but I do know that I wish him and his family the strength and energy to endure the awful times ahead. I hope others will put their political feelings aside and do the same. Stephen Hawking's case of ALS is an extremely rare occurence. My dad died 5 months after being diagnosed and had symptoms for 1.5 years prior. Most people with ALS die within 3-5 years from when they start having symptoms. I hope that in some small way my Dad has helped the scientific community find a cause, treatment and cure for this disease by donating his body to science.

  • tayled Feb 13, 5:53 p.m.

    I was diametrically opposed to most everything that Sen. Basnight did, including the lottery and how all that went down, but it's time to put that aside and offer up prayers for Sen. Basnight and family.

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