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Former Ravens player O.J. Brigance beating the odds while living with ALS

Lou Gherig gave famous farewell speech 7/4/1939
Posted at 3:01 PM, Jul 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-04 18:08:06-04

It was July 4th, 1939.  A double-header at Yankee Stadium dubbed Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day.

"Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth," Gherig said.

It was the last public appearance for the sports legend. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, took his life less than two years later.

"It was a relief to finally realize what was wrong with me," said O.J. Brigance.

When the former Baltimore Ravens linebacker got the crushing news, he had no idea what ALS was or what the disease would do. 

There is no known cure for the disorder.

"When you're diagnosed you're given two to five years to live,” Chanda Brigance said. “So that's devastating within itself."

That was a decade ago. And O.J. has beaten the odds.

These days he uses a motorized wheelchair to get around, and communicates using eye movements and a computer.

"Ten years is truly a blessing and I pray for many more," he said.

He credits his mental and physical strength from his time on the gridiron for the way he's tackled this challenge.  Staying positive by focusing on the abilities he still has instead of what ALS has stolen.

"My faith in Jesus Christ is the primary reason that I have been able to keep a positive perspective about my diagnosis," said O.J.

"It was our faith, and still is our faith that has allowed us to put one foot in front of the other,” Chanda said. “It's our faith that is opening doors and helping us to reach other families and those living with this disease."

Not long after the ALS diagnosis, Chanda and O.J. launched a campaign to help other people living with the disorder. The Brigance Brigade Foundation has raised millions of dollars to aid other families pay for medical equipment, nursing and other needs.

This past Sunday, O.J. was honored by the Orioles as a Birdland Community Hero for his work benefiting and motivating others battling the disease.

Ten years later, just like Lou Gehrig, O.J. says he's grateful for the life he is leading.

"I am reminded of just how much good has resulted as what was initially seen as one of the most dire of circumstances."

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new ALS drug. It’s not a cure, but Radicava is proven to help slow the decline of physical function. It's only the second medicine on the market specifically for the disorder. The last one got the FDA's stamp in 1995.