As noted by O.J. Brigance of the Brigance Brigade Foundation, a chilling milestone known as the ice-bucket challenge put Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) on the map creating awareness about the debilitating disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal column, according to the ALS Association. 

After a 12-year football career and a reverence and respect for the sport, O.J. retired and took a position with the Baltimore Ravens that allowed him to work closely with the players before discovering symptoms that lead to his diagnosis of ALS.  Brigade and his wife, Chanda, were immersed new, unanticipated changes that required faith and living a whole new lifestyle to confront the challenges that followed.  With new eyes, a lot of love and support, and a profound understanding of how an ALS diagnosis could impact the average family with medical bills and the taxing emotional crisis that accompanies immobilizing illness, the couple resolved to help others struggling with the illness.

One life-changing year after his diagnosis the Brigances’ launched Brigance Brigade Foundation, an organization created to support others whose lives were impacted as a result of the diagnosis.  As noted by the ALS Association, “the disease at any given time (although this number fluctuates).  For unknown reasons, military veterans are approximately twice as likely to be diagnosed with the disease than the general public.”

In appreciation for his wife’s devotion Brigance’s appreciation is clear, “The most rewarding part about co-founding the Brigance Brigade Foundation with my wife, Chandra, has been providing ALS patients and their families not only with financial assistance, but also with emotional support.  Everyone at the Brigance Brigade Foundation works hard to ensure these courageous families know they are never alone in their fight and our Foundation is always there for them as a resource, providing both guidance and support.”

The foundation has granted physical and financial resources such as Speech Generating Devices and manual wheelchairs, things many take for granted that can impact every day quality of life.  In 2009, a significant moment again rocked Brigade, “…my ability to breathe on my own had significantly weakened to the point where I needed a tracheostomy. It was a huge life adjustment to take in the fact I would need to breathe through a ventilator for the rest of my life. While the tracheostomy allowed me to continue living, which I was very grateful for, I had no idea what to expect in terms of the quality of life it would bring.”

The former football star who has won both a CFL and NFL championship recounts, “The Ravens Super Bowl XLVII run in 2013 significantly increased awareness for the Brigance Brigade Foundation because of the national spotlight on the Baltimore Ravens and the city of Baltimore. I traveled to the Super Bowl in New Orleans as Senior Advisor to Player Development for the Baltimore Ravens.”

What does fierce commitment look like now to the power couple?  Brigance looks fearlessly into the future with renewed faith, “we will continue serving families living with ALS in the Mid-Atlantic region, while looking for further opportunities to expand our services to families in similar situations nationally. Our long-term goal is to open an ALS residence for PALS (People Living with ALS.) It is our hope this residence will allow PALS requiring long-term assistance care to continue to live flourishing lives.”

Interested in supporting but not ready to take on a bucket of freezing ice-cold water?  The ice-bucket challenge isn’t the only way to support families struggling with and impacted by ALS.  Supporters can volunteer, purchase merchandise, or amplify awareness on social media.  The Brigance Brigade Foundation now has a signature event, the 5.7K Championship Run and 1.57 Mile Family Run/Walk to raise awareness and funds for ALS and just this year Chandra’s Caregiver Corner was launched to provide a platform for ALS caregivers, because, as the couple upholds, “together, anything is possible.”