Steve Gleason Act scores victory for ALS patients on Capitol Hill

Steve Gleason’s latest remarkable achievement will soon be headed to the desk of President Barack Obama.

The Steve Gleason Act -- inspired by the former New Orleans special teams standout who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011 -- passed a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday after previously passing through the Senate.

The bill, which now needs only Obama's signature to become a law, will make critical technology available to patients with ALS and other neurological disorders through Medicare and Medicaid. That includes innovative speech-generating devices like the one Gleason uses to type words through eye movements.

"People, like myself, who are literally voiceless, were heard. Loud and clear," Gleason said in a statement Wednesday. "This legislation may have my name on it, but please know it is the ALS community and the diligent legislators who deserve our applause."

Gleason said he was “shocked” when he learned last year that such technology would be stripped from patients as part of sweeping changes made to Medicare, and he called it a human rights violation in a Washington Post op-ed.

"Thankfully, legislative leaders like Senator [David] Vitter, Congresswomen [Cathy] McMorris-Rodgers, Congressman [Erik] Paulsen, Congressman [Steve] Scalise and many others, saw this tragedy and they intervened," Gleason said in the statement. "These leaders stepped up on behalf of those who couldn't take action themselves. At the time, the Steve Gleason Act seemed like a long shot. It was given only a 2% chance of passing, but the ALS community never waved the white flag. That was not an option.

"With help from this extraordinary ALS community of patients and caregivers, as well as advocates like the Center for Medicare Advocacy, we made some noise. A lot of noise."

Gleason was already a cult hero in New Orleans before he became a renowned advocate for those suffering from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Gleason's most memorable moment on the football field was his blocked punt that ignited the Saints' 2006 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on the night the Superdome reopened after Hurricane Katrina -- a play that is commemorated with a statue outside the building.

But the efforts of Gleason, his wife Michel and the rest of the Team Gleason charity foundation have made the Washington native a hero around the globe.

Together they started the Team Gleason House for Innovative Living in New Orleans -- only the second of its kind in the United States, which allows patients with incurable neuromuscular disorders to live more independently.

Among many other achievements, Gleason has also spoken to the United Nations, was honored by the Professional Football Writers of America with the George Halas Award for overcoming adversity, was featured in an NFL Films documentary on an epic trip to Machu Picchu and was featured in the first-ever Super Bowl commercial for Microsoft last year.

Saints coach Sean Payton recently marveled at Gleason's accomplishments.

"When you start reading into the difference that's come up and the changes that have come up based on one individual's fight, I don't want to say it's surprising, but it's truly amazing, the impact he has had," Payton said. "When they're deciding things on Capitol Hill because of Steve, it's pretty impressive."

Here are some other reactions via Twitter on Wednesday: