NEW ORLEANS -- Cleveland Browns linebacker
Former NFL special teams standout Steve Gleason signified the rebirth of New Orleans when he blocked a punt in the Saints’ first game in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, but now finds himself battling ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
Fujita joined Gleason in New Orleans for the announcement of a partnership with Team Gleason and Chase Bank to assist in the construction of the Team Gleason House at St. Margaret’s Hospital in New Orleans. The facility will allow patients suffering from ALS and Multiple Sclerosis to live independently through the advent of technology.
“He’s been an inspiration to the ALS community all around the world,” Fujita said. “That’s what we wanted to do, push the envelope, and we’re just getting started. This week is an opportune time, especially with the Super Bowl being in New Orleans, to take this conversation to the next level.
“This is a disease that for far too long has been underfunded and largely ignored and that is just not acceptable. This disease is devastating. No one knows where this disease comes from and that’s not okay. That is the challenge, to get this on people’s radar. It’s time for everyone to come together and make a difference.”
Through the help of a video screen controlled by his eyes, Gleason described the abilities ALS patients will have at the Team Gleason House.
“ALS patients at the Team Gleason House will be able to control their environment using only their eyes,” Gleason said. “They can navigate a computer or the Internet, just as anyone would. They can open doors, call elevators, turn up lights or turn on TVs or control their thermostat.
“What is most impressive about the technology is it will allow patients to collaborate with peers and colleagues and continue whatever their purpose may be, artists continuing their art, teachers continuing to teach, architects continuing to design, producers continuing to produce. I believe this can be done regionally, nationally and even globally. I believe we have the partnerships in place to make this happen. This vision will not only affect the world of ALS, but the entire world.”
Known for his free-spirited attitude and his foundation’s motto, “NO WHITE FLAGS,” Gleason hopes to continue inspiring ALS patients by pushing the envelope and doing the things everyone says is impossible. As proof of that, Gleason and Fujita have planned a trip to see the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru for later this year.
“I believe that because ALS research is underfunded and under-resourced, many ALS patients end up fading away quietly and dying. For me, this was not okay,” Gleason said. “I did not want to fade away quietly. After doing some research, I found out there were handfuls of people that have been living with ALS for very long periods of time, 10, 20, 30, even 40 years, despite the progression of the disease.
“On this discovery process, I realized that these patients had three crucial elements to help them: the right support, the right technology, and finally, purpose. After my diagnosis, I was determined to foster the right support, the right technology and continue living a purposeful life for 10, 20, 30, or 40 years, despite the progression of my disease. I believed I could help other ALS patients do the same.”
By pushing himself, and those around him, to answer the challenges that come with an ALS diagnosis, Gleason believes there is hope to find the cause -- and a cure -- to the illness commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” after the former New York Yankees first baseman that lost his battle nearly 72 years ago.
“I blocked a punt in the Superdome,” Gleason said. “That announced to the world that the city of New Orleans had no plans of disappearing. I believe we are at a similar moment with ALS, similar to the night of the blocked punt. With the building of the Team Gleason House, we are announcing to the world that with the right care and the right technology, patients can be productive for decades.
“Furthermore, we’ll begin a conversation on a global scale that will finally cure ALS. We will bring together the brightest minds and the best companies to solve a seemingly insurmountable problem. This will be a massive effort, so I invite you to put your heads together with us. This is an effort that’s bigger than me, the blocked punt, or the city of New Orleans. This is bigger than football and the Super Bowl.”