NEW ORLEANS, LA (FOX8) - In the fight for his life, former New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason is also helping to lead the fight to treat and cure ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Saturday the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation raised about $200,000 and awareness of the disease during the first of its kind "Gleason Gras" at Champions Square.
Gray skies, a cold wind, and at times, rain didn't hold people back. Organizers say 5,000 people filled Champions Square. Since Gleason announced he was diagnosed with ALS in September, people have rallied around him. "The light that he sheds on this and the publicity and what not is really good when we're talking about donations and helping families get through this," said Shannon Rockefeller, who's mother was diagnosed with the disease in March 2010.
Friends and complete strangers showed their support for Gleason by just showing up, including 64-year-old Linda Rockefeller. She and Gleason share the same doctor and the same debilitating disease. "She lost her speech like Steve's losing his speech, and you have a general loss of muscle control, but after a while, everything shuts down," explained Linda Rockefeller's son, Kyle.
Linda Rockefeller can't talk anymore and uses an iPad to communicate. When asked how Gleason has impacted her life she spelled out on the iPad: "he has brought awareness to ALS! He's such a young man, and God has a purpose for his life!"
"There's some other technologies out there. There's two different versions we're gonna try out, and we talked to the Gleason's. They're gonna try one, and we're gonna try the other, and we'll see which one works the best," said Kyle Rockefeller.
Gleason's buddy and former Saint Kyle Turley, who's grandfather lost a battle with ALS, performed as part of the long lineup of live music. People enjoyed pictures with the Lombardi trophy and autographs from Gleason's former teammates. Six-year-old Jack Falter was so excited to meet the players, he called them the "best team in the world."
Just back from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, the 610 Stompers even busted out their moves at the event to the song, "Holding out for a Hero." Steve Gleason became a hero for New Orleans when he blocked a punt in the Saints vs. Falcons game in 2006, and for other reasons now, people say he's still a hero, especially people like Linda Rockefeller. "Of course he's a hero, and she's my other hero, and they're both very special people," said Kyle Rockefeller.
Money from the event will go to the Gleason Family Trust to help offset the costs of living with ALS. In the advanced stages, care for patients could cost more than $200,000 a year.