Skip to comments.Former Raider With ALS Wants To Help Others
Posted on 07/19/2003 2:52:58 PM PDT by FlJoePa
Former Raider with ALS wants to help others 07/19/2003
It's not supposed to happen to guys like Steve Smith. Not to a guy who once scored two touchdowns in a remarkable come-from-behind win for the Raiders on Monday Night Football. Not to a guy who was on two of Joe Paterno's national championship teams.
It's not supposed to happen to a guy who is the father of 13-year-old Dante and 11-year-old Jazmin and husband to wonderful Chie. Not a guy who prays and believes. Not a guy who is 38.
You watch Steve Smith slide his body, inch by inch, across a restaurant bench seat. You watch him rest so that he can muster the strength to rise to his feet. When he's finally up, you watch his shoulders slump and his thick arms dangle at his side. And under your breath, you curse.
But Steve Smith smiles. He embraces you and you embrace him and you figure that somehow, someway, everything is going to be all right. You figure that Steve Smith will be the one who beats amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease.
It started with Smith like it started with the Oilers' Glenn Montgomery, the Broncos' Pete Duranko and three guys from a mid-'60s 49ers team. About three years ago, Smith got a little twitch in his arm. Must be from lifting weights, he thought. His legs started feeling heavy. Must be gaining too much weight, he figured.
By the time he moved from Atlanta to Plano last summer to start a new business venture, jogging had turned into a shuffle. Playing tennis made him feel as if he would tip over. Must be from the two back surgeries he had during his NFL days, he guessed.
So he went to an orthopedic specialist. The guy found nothing and pointed Smith to a neurologist.
"Neurologist?" Smith thought. Whatever. Smith just wanted to get fixed.
"He [the neurologist] said, 'I think you have some sort of muscle disorder,' " Smith recalled. "I said, 'What kind?' He said, 'Lou Gehrig's disease.' I was like, 'What?' "
Smith knew what it was. He knew it was what the great ballplayer had. He knew it was what felled the Iron Horse at 37.
But that was a long time ago. Smith didn't believe he could have the same thing. What big, thick athlete who survived nine seasons sticking his neck into men even bigger and heavier could?
"I've been healthy my whole life," said Smith, a Washington, D.C. native. "To have this happen, to just come out of left field, I just thought, 'It can't be right.' "
He sought a second opinion. It was the same.
He sought a third opinion at Baylor College of Medicine's special ALS center in Houston. Its doctors concurred.
But that wasn't the worst of it, he said. The place was.
"People with advanced stages of the disease in wheelchairs and hooked up to feeders and dependent on everyone else for everything," he said.
Smith made three trips to the Houston center. He was supposed to return last month.
But he met a woman at one of his son's track meets. She was concerned about his condition and asked what was wrong. She told Smith that her husband had been diagnosed with an incurable heart disease, but he was still with her thanks to an alternative medicine clinic they found in Nevada.
Two weeks later, Smith and his wife were at the Reno center. After a six-week stay, Smith returned to Plano feeling better.
He also was told at the center he might have Lyme disease, which can produce ALS-like symptoms.
"That's the thing with ALS, you always spiral down," he said. "But I saw improvement at the [Reno] clinic."
It also set him back about 20 grand. Insurance doesn't cover alternative treatment. He'll need more money to continue trying to save his life. Some of his former teammates are helping.
"I had to go into my savings, which, Lord forbid anything happen, is for my children," he said. "But for someone who doesn't have that money, they don't have any option."
That's why Smith figured he has been stricken. God isn't punishing him, he said. God is putting Smith where Smith always has been. God is putting Smith where Smith was for Marcus Allen and for Bo Jackson and in Seattle for Chris Warren. Smith said God is putting him out front to lead the way to a cure for this horrible, fatal disease that leaves the mind intact while it melts the body under it, even a pro football player's body.
"God has brought me to this point for a reason," Smith said. "I think when I went down to that [Houston] clinic and saw all the despair and hopelessness, I felt like I went down there to tell those people what God has in store for them. That they can get ready to live.
"I want to raise money for these people to go to these alternative clinics. God's not finished with me yet."
What a great football player he was - now humbled by this terrible disease. At least he is at peace with his God.
My mother died from this disease - I think it's the cruelest disease. She could feel greatly improved from things like mega doses of Vitamin B-12. It was never a cure, but it could give her days, or even weeks, of better mobility.
Holding out false hope for much money is even crueler than the disease.