Like most people, I had always assumed Muhammed Ali's condition was purely “pugilistic parkinsonism” — an obvious result of a lifetime's blows to the head, particularly those taken during his later “rope-a-dope” period. After reading Dr. Stanley Fahn's speculation that Ali might have developed classic Parkinson's disease even if he had chosen, say, public accounting over the fight game as a career, I was skeptical at first. But then I thought back to the role that trauma had played in the progression of the disease in my own father. He was first diagnosed with Parkinson's after undergoing minor surgery for a hernia, but my family and I then realized there had been mild evidence of the condition for at least the prior two years; the surgery had somehow accelerated the development of symptoms. The degeneration was further quickened seven years later when he suffered head trauma from a fall; after that, he required home care.
Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that Ali was diagnosed at such a young age: Only two traumas revealed and subsequently accelerated my father's parkinsonism — while for Ali, head trauma was a day at the office.
Hollis Hills, N.Y.