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Monday, January 20, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gleason Institute ramps up fundraising while namesake receives honor

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 15, 2020

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, left, leads a cheer with former Saints player Steve Gleason in 2013. Born and raised in Spokane, Gleason played football for Gonzaga Prep and later played as a linebacker for Washington State University. After college, he was signed by the New Orleans Saints, and though he was smaller in stature than many of his teammates, he was such a lithe and go-for-broke player that his intensity was likened to that of a kamikaze pilot. (Bill Haber / Associated Press)
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, left, leads a cheer with former Saints player Steve Gleason in 2013. Born and raised in Spokane, Gleason played football for Gonzaga Prep and later played as a linebacker for Washington State University. After college, he was signed by the New Orleans Saints, and though he was smaller in stature than many of his teammates, he was such a lithe and go-for-broke player that his intensity was likened to that of a kamikaze pilot. (Bill Haber / Associated Press)

Although they “rib each other,” Daryll DeWald, Washington State University health sciences chancellor, and Steve Gleason, a leading advocate for people struggling with ALS, have an extremely close relationship, said Kim Papich, WSU health sciences director of communications and public affairs.

It’s no wonder DeWald will be present when Gleason, whose football career took him from Gonzaga Prep and Washington State University to the New Orleans Saints, receives the Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony today in Washington, D.C.

“He’s totally and completely humbled, and he is thrilled each time he has the opportunity to interact with Steve,” Papich said of DeWald. “It’s cool to see that he’s earned that respect and that place at the Team Gleason table.”

Meanwhile, WSU is ramping up its fundraising aims to power the Gleason Institute, a center primarily dedicated to the treatment and research of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which also is named Lou Gehrig’s disease after the beloved New York Yankees slugger.

A key aspect of DeWald and Gleason’s strong ties is the planning and establishment of the institute, said Marcos Frank, Gleason Institute interim director. The team hopes to have the institute funded and up and running this spring.

Aside from Team Gleason, a foundation that aims to provide adventure, care services and technology to people living with ALS, the institute has worked to form relationships in the community, including St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Center and its parent organization at Providence, local ALS groups such as the ALS Service Organization, the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, area neurologists and local colleges such as Gonzaga University and University of Washington.

“We work with anyone who wants to further the mission,” Frank said. “There are ways to do this on a variety of levels, and we’re working on all of them now.”

There are avenues for members of the community to help, Frank said, offering the example of family funding endowed professorships. Frank said they also are hoping to continue their relationship with the mayor’s office by working with the newly sworn-in mayor, Nadine Woodward.

This also will be an opportunity for students to get involved in this type of work beginning with outreach locally and expanding as the institute grows.

“Ideally, this is something we want to be a national resource that anyone that wants to come and train or have exposure to the research, to the clinical populations, that they have an opportunity to do so,” Frank said. “We want to be partners with other institutes to work on related diseases. It’s very much where we want to be a center of excellence when it comes to these issues.

Gleason, who was born and raised in Spokane, was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. Since then, he and his wife, Michel, have advocated on behalf of patients who also suffer from the progressive neurodegenerative disease. Since its founding, Team Gleason has awarded nearly $10 million to more than 15,000 people living with ALS.

Washington senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, joined with their colleagues from Louisiana, where the Gleasons make their home, to pass legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Gleason. Gleason will become the first NFL player to receive Congress’ highest civilian honor.

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