Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants” revealed has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurological disease. The 55-year old animator shared a statement announcing his illness and his intent to continue working on the long-running series.

“SpongeBob” creator opens up about diagnosis

Hillenburg announced o Monday that he has ALS. Despite his illness, the 55-year old vowed to continue working on the multibillion-dollar franchise.

"Anyone who knows me knows that I will continue to work on 'SpongeBob SquarePants' and my other passions for as long as I am able," Hillenburg said in the statement sent to Variety. "My family and I are grateful for the outpouring of love and support. We ask that our sincere request for privacy be honored during this time.”

Lou Gehrig's disease: Symptoms and complications

A source tells Hillenburg he only recently received the diagnosis and is in the early stages of the disease. ALS, also referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease is a rare terminal illness, with no known cure, that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord that control the muscles.

Among the early signs and symptoms of ALS include difficulty in walking or doing normal daily activities; tripping and falling; weakness in leg, knees or ankles; hand weakness or clumsiness; slurred speech or trouble swallowing; muscle cramps; and twitching in arms, shoulders and tongue.

According to Mayo Clinic, a non-profit organization, as the disease progresses, people with ALS are likely to experience complications such as breathing, speaking and eating. Some may also suffer from dementia, experiencing problems with memory and making decisions.

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SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star, characters from the Nickelodeon long-running series, "SpongeBob SquarePants." Flickr/Kooroshication

Hillenburg has been part of almost everyone’s childhood

Everyone has practically grown up watching “Spongebob.” The series is a brainchild of a former marine biology teacher, featuring an animated sponge that lives in Bikini Bottom in a pineapple under the sea. Created in 1999, the animation, which started as a Saturday morning cartoon, spawned animated live-action movies and even a stage musical.

He helmed “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” in 2004, and co-wrote and executively produced the 2015 sequel, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water.” He retired as a showrunner from the series for a decade before returning in 2014 as an executive producer. The series was renewed for a 10th and 11th season in March 2016.

Nickelodeon said in a statement that Hillenburg “is a brilliant creator who brings joy to millions of fans.” The network pledged support to the animator and his family.

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