In August 2019, one month after marrying his long-time girlfriend, and two months shy of his 30th birthday, L.A. City firefighter and former NFL football player Eric Stevens received the devastating diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after the famed New York Yankee who was diagnosed with the illness in 1939.
Since being diagnosed, Stevens, a San Pedro native and graduate of Peninsula High School, has been inundated with support from the San Pedro community, fellow first responders, and colleagues in the NFL, all rallying behind the #axeALS movement, and donating to the family’s GoFundMe campaign. Despite this, the reality of Stevens’ diagnosis currently remains unchanged. The Stevens family is taking up the battle to raise awareness for ALS and to help fast-track drug and treatment options that are currently inaccessible to ALS patients.
“Every day you feel it a little more,” says Stevens. “It takes a toll on you mentally and physically. You feel a little weaker every day. And the most frustrating part is that currently, there is nothing anyone can do.”
ALS causes the death of neurons that control voluntary muscles, resulting in muscle weakness and spasms, impaired speech, and eventual loss of the ability to swallow food or breathe. Awareness of the disease gained traction in recent years through the viral 2014 ALS Ice Bucket challenge. The research and medical community are working towards identifying the causes and treatment options for ALS, but as of now, there is no known cure.
According to Stevens, for the first time ever, there is treatment available that can slow the progression and alleviate the symptoms of ALS, but the medicine has not been fully approved by the FDA, even though it has gone through two phases of testing and is considered safe for humans.
“They say it can take up to ten more years before it can be approved, and that’s ten years I don’t have,” says Stevens. “It’s a tough pill to swallow. There has to be a way to fast-track the testing process so this medicine can be available to people like me sooner.”
“Knowing that there are treatments out there that can help slow the progression, we have a great sense of urgency to make some changes in order to have access to them,” writes Stevens’ wife, Amanda, on the Team Stevens Nation GoFundMe page. “This will ultimately help Eric and everyone else in the ALS community. Every day without treatment is a day lost. So, we want everyone to know we are going to do everything we possibly can to fight. Fight for treatment. Fight for awareness. Fight for hope. Because that’s all we have right now.”
In the fight to bring awareness and change, the Stevens family will be holding a fundraiser on November 23 at the Seaside Lagoon in Redondo Beach, starting at 11a.m. There will be live music, BBQ, and a cornhole tournament, followed by a live auction at 2 p.m. All proceeds will go to Eric’s care and treatment.
“Bringing awareness to this disease might not help me, but it will help so many others affected by ALS,” says Stevens. “The event at the Seaside Lagoon is a great opportunity to have a good time with good people to support a good cause.” spt
For more info about the Nov. 23 event, visit eventbrite.com and search for “Eric Stevens.”
To donate, visit gofundme.com/f/eric-stevens-care-trust.