A Life Impossible: Finding Peace and Wisdom Within a Fragile Existence

Image of A Life Impossible: Living with ALS: Finding Peace and Wisdom Within a Fragile Existence
Release Date: 
April 30, 2024
Reviewed by: 

A Life Impossible is a well-written and remarkable book in its honesty. It will be an inspiration to many, . . .”

Steve Gleason was born in Spokane, Washington, in 1977, and grew up developing a love for the Northwest, especially being alone in nature. He also enjoyed sports, both individual and team sports. Sports opened a new world for him and helped him overcome his shyness. Football became his favorite.

He played high school and college football and was both fearless and aggressive but was considered undersized. Major colleges and the pros showed only fleeting interest in him. After he was not drafted by an NFL team, he signed a free agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts, only to be cut. A few weeks later, he got a call from the New Orleans Saints and was signed to the practice squad. Shortly after signing, two injuries to defensive players landed Gleason on the Saints special teams.

Gleason fell in love with New Orleans. He met, and eventually married, his wife Michel who was from the city and a close-knit New Orleans Italian family. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made a direct hit on New Orleans and within a matter of hours the damage was massive. Eighty percent of the city was underwater; tens of thousands of people were without shelter, resulting in several thousand people taking shelter in the Superdome.

The stadium suffered heavy wind and water damage and many feared it would be necessary to demolish this civic and regional treasure. Governor Kathleen Blanco was determined to save the Superdome. In just over a year, September 15, 2006, the city celebrated its recovery with the re-opening of the Louisiana Superdome for the first Saints home game of the season. The game between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons was featured on Monday Night Football, and it was the focus not only of New Orleans, but the entire country.

The Falcons received the kickoff and failed to get a first down. As a member of the special teams, Steve Gleason went on the field. He was able rush the kicker untouched, and block the punt. As the ball rolled into the end zone Curtis Deloatch fell on it for a New Orleans touchdown. The roar of the crowd was the loudest ever heard in the Superdome.

Suddenly, Steve Gleason was a hero and a major piece of New Orleans history. The blocked punt was immortalized in the “Rebirth” statue in front of the Superdome. This major transformation in Gleason’s life subsequently became a minor turning point. Three years later Steve Gleason was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This was the major turning point. The prognosis was that he would most likely live two to three years. That was 13 years ago.

A Life Impossible is Steve Gleason’s account of how these two events changed the trajectory of his life, the lives of many close to him, and the lives of others across the world. The first part of the book is Gleason’s account of his life before ALS. The second part begins with the jolt of the ALS diagnosis.

Gleason holds nothing back. The slow deterioration of his body is recounted in detail. The final loss of all control of his body rips through him brutally, challenging his identity and, at times, his sanity. The small triumphs are towering achievements. The defeats are many and often come in multiples. The frustration conveyed in the writing is palpable. It seems beyond all human comprehension, and yet Gleason is able to convey it all.

For Steve and Michel and all those who are part of their life—family, friends and caregivers—the ability to transcend all of this is a tribute to the power of each of them and the power of the human spirit. As Steve notes: “Although your senses and brain remain sharp, you gradually lose the ability to walk, talk, swallow, and breathe.”  This means that he is totally dependent on others and on multiple technologies to continue to live. The ups and downs are radical. The pressure on human relationships is massive. Steve and Michael struggle to hold their marriage together and raise two children. They stretch themselves as far as they can, and at times further.

One of many inspiring, yet agonizing, parts of the book is Steve’s diary entries written for his son with the use of eye contact typing technology. Knowing he might not live much longer, Steve decided he needed to leave messages behind for his son, and later his daughter, who might have only a vague memory of their father. These diary entries offer insight into Steve Gleason, a complex human being and, in many ways, a typical person of the times.

Steve and Michel Gleason are determined to live, not just to survive. They have created Team Gleason, a foundation to assist those with ALS to continue to be active and experience joy in their lives. Team Gleason attracts members across the globe, and it is funded by large and small philanthropists. In 2020 Steve Gleason was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

A Life Impossible is a well-written and remarkable book in its honesty. It will be an inspiration to many, as are Steve Gleason, his family, and his team.