Sen. John Kennedy talks about courage of Donna Britt, Steve Gleason in fight against ALS

RAW: Sen John Kennedy Speech on ALS
Published: Sep. 12, 2017 at 3:55 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 12, 2017 at 6:42 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON, DC (WAFB) - US Sen. John Kennedy delivered a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday about the fight against ALS and mentioned Donna Britt in his address.

Kennedy told his fellow senators about how she and former Saints player Steve Gleason are showing "true grit" and "their courage is an inspiration."

Here is a copy of Kennedy's speech:

ALS – or Lou Gehrig's disease – has hit us hard in Louisiana.

A number of my colleagues probably were watching the night the New Orleans Saints returned to the field at the Superdome for the first time after Hurricane Katrina.

A young man named Steve Gleason became a legend that night when he blocked a punt deep in Atlanta territory for a touchdown.  Today Steve is battling ALS.  ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that destroys nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.  There is no cure.  Steve, however, is determined to thrive and help others who have ALS.

Within the past few weeks, we also learned that Baton Rouge television news anchor Donna Britt has ALS.  Like Steve, Donna is showing true grit. 
Most of us would probably curl into a fetal position and cry if we were told that we have a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that is 100% fatal.  Not Steve and certainly not Donna.  Their courage is an inspiration.

As Donna herself put it, she's going to continue living as a living person and not as a dying person.  She's going to keep going to work and keep caring for her family.  She's educating herself about ALS, ordering a state of the art wheelchair with Bluetooth technology and adding words to a voice bank for when she can no longer speak.  She's determined to meet every challenge.

That is pure valor.  It's the type of courage that should inspire us all.

It's also Donna.  I don't know how to put it any other way.

Donna is a woman who plays the oboe, survived breast cancer, donates books to school libraries, sings outside Wal-Mart during the holidays for charity, travels the world and fiercely loves her family.  She and her husband, Mark Ballard, have a son and a daughter.  Her daughter Annie is a scientist working in DNA research.  Their son Louie is a bright young student in high school.

Donna has delivered the news for 36 years.  She has spent her entire career at WAFB in Baton Rouge.  Donna does her job so well that she is a role model for young journalists.  Folks in Baton Rouge feel that Donna is part of their family.  Since 1981, she's been on the air with them through storms, inaugurations and other major news events.  She also takes them into the community and introduces them to interesting people.

A few months ago, Donna realized that her health wasn't what it should be.  There's no definitive test for ALS.  Basically, the doctors have to rule everything else out before deciding you have ALS.

As she struggled to find out why she was losing the use of her fingers and her legs, Donna didn't keep her viewers in the dark.  She brought them along for the journey in frank Facebook videos.  Along the way, she educated them on what's it like to have a degenerative disease.

At a family reunion this summer, Donna suddenly could no longer stand.  That's a problem when you stand behind a desk to deliver the news.  For Donna, it was just another challenge to conquer.  She ordered a wheelchair that would help her adapt to her new reality.

Now Donna is working with Louisiana State University to prepare for the day when her respiratory and diaphragm muscles are too weak for her to vocalize what she's thinking.  With LSU's help, she will put words into a voice bank for the future.  Again, it's just another challenge to conquer.

I'm proud of Steve Gleason, and I'm proud of Donna Britt.  As angry as I am that anyone has to live with ALS, I am proud that they are inspiring an army of ALS sufferers by meeting every challenge and battling to thrive.

RELATED: WAFB's Donna Britt diagnosed with ALS