Steve Gleason's Story with ALS By: Juliette M. Sierra

Steve Gleason a former NFL player who played for the New Orleans Saints from 2000-2008. Steve was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in January 2011 at age 34 and six weeks later finding out his wife was pregnant with their first child Rivers.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis also known as ALS. Is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. A-myo-trophic comes from the greek language. "A" means no. "Myo" refers to muscle and "Trophic" means nourishment. When amuscle has no nourishment it "atrophies" or wastes away. "Lateral" identifies the areas in a persons spinal cord. As this degenerates it leads to scarring or hardening "sclerosis" in the region.

Symptoms of ALS can include twitching and cramping of muscles (called fasciculation), stiffness in muscles (spasticity), increasing loss of motor control in hands and arms and legs, weakness and fatigue, slurred or thick speech and difficulty breathing or swallowing. Steve's initial symptom was loss of motor control in his legs , and was diagnosed at the age of 34 with ALS.

ALS is a difficult disease to diagnose. There is no one test or procedure to ultimately establish the diagnosis of ALS. There are multiple tests that can help with diagnosis like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), electrodiagnostic tests including electomyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity (NCV), spinal tap, muscle or nerve biopsy, and throughought neurological examination. Steve was diagnosed because of his initial symptom a loss of motor control in his leg and diagnosed by a throughought neurological examination.

There are not many treatments available for ALS. No treatment can reverse the damage of ALS but they can slow the progression out and prevent complications. There is only one drug available out there called riluzole (Rilutek) is the only approved medication by the FDA for ALS. The drug is meant to slow down the progression of the disease by reducing the chemical messenger in the brain thats often present in higher levels in people with ALS.

Therapies exist like breathing care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, nutritional support, psychological and social support. Steve has tried many of these but none have been able to work and his disease has progressed.

The long term prognosis for ALS is two to five years since diagnosis. Steve has been living with ALS for six years from the time of diagnosis and has exceded expectations of patients with ALS. Once ALS starts it almost always progresses eventually taking away the ability to walk, dress, write, speak, swallow, and breathe and shortening the life span. How fast this occurs depends from person to person. While the average survival time is 3 years, about twenty percent of people with ALS live five years, 10 percent will survive ten years and five percent will live 20 years or more.Today, Gleason relies on a ventilator to stay alive and a computer to speak.


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