Former Saints special-teams player Steve Gleason — an advocate for people fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative neuromuscular disease he has — asked for prayers, meditation and good vibes from the public Monday, when he announced he was undergoing a surgery that would facilitate his breathing.
“We’ve lived this ALS journey publicly, no reason to stop now,” Gleason wrote on Twitter. “I am heading in for a semi-planned tracheotomy tonight.”
He continued in a separate tweet, “I believe in the power of intention, prayer, meditation, etc. I appreciate your unified focus on healing.”
Gleason signed off with his renowned rallying cry, “No White Flags,” and he promised to tweet to his 80,300 followers later.
According to Clare Durrett, an associate executive director for his Team Gleason foundation, which is dedicated to providing technology, equipment and services to people battling neuromuscular diseases or injuries, the ex-Saint called the procedure “semi-planned” because many ALS patients opt for a tracheotomy as breathing becomes more difficult for them.
“He knew the time was coming,” Durrett said. “Now is that time.”
A tracheotomy involves making an incision on the outside of the neck and into the windpipe to provide an air passage for people whose breathing has somehow been impaired. Durrett said Gleason will not require a ventilator because his lungs remain strong enough, and the procedure should enable him to keep up with his advocacy after a recovery period.
“Steve’s focus has always been living to the fullest,” Durrett said. “That’s the mission of Team Gleason, and this is just another step in his progress.”
Gleason played for the Saints from 2000 to 2008, mostly in special-teams coverage but also as a backup safety. While his stats don’t distinguish him as one of the franchise’s numerical leaders, for a couple of reasons, he’s inspired innumerable people in a way few — if any — Saints have.
Gleason, who is now paralyzed and in a wheelchair equipped with a computer he can operate with his eyes, blocked a punt on the night the Superdome re-opened for the first time after Hurricane Katrina. The play, which resulted in a touchdown and paved the way to a Saints victory, came to symbolize New Orleans’ will to surge back from the devastating storm.
Then, after being diagnosed with ALS in 2010, he teamed up with his wife, Michel, to launch Team Gleason.
One of the group’s best-known philanthropic projects was to build the House for Innovative Living at New Orleans’ St. Margaret Hospital. The house is outfitted with computer-operated technology designed to give up to 18 people fighting ALS as much independence as possible, and it is said to be only the second building of its kind in the world.
Durrett recently said the foundation was in the process of developing the home and training in anticipation of its first residents, who were set to arrive in June. Gleason’s surgery won’t affect those plans, she added Monday.
Update, 9:49 p.m., May 19, 2014: On Facebook, Team Gleason said the surgery went well. “He looks great!” the foundation said of Gleason.