Firefighter and Former NFL Player Diagnosed with ALS at 29 Welcomes First Child: 'Sweetest Angel'

Jason Duaine Hahn
·3 min read

TAYLER SUTERKO/Tayler Ashley Photography Amanda and Eric Stevens

Eric Stevens — the firefighter and former NFL player who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis just one month after his wedding day in 2019 — has welcomed his first child with wife Amanda.

The couple announced the birth of their daughter Peyton James on Tuesday with a sweet Instagram post featuring the newborn wrapped in a pink blanket.

"The sweetest angel in all the lands," he wrote. "Peyton James. 1/5/21."

In August 2019, then 29-year-old Stevens was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a deadly neurological that slowly takes away a person's ability to control their muscles. The diagnosis came just weeks after he married his longtime sweetheart, Amanda.

Patients diagnosed with ALS first experience twitching or weakness in a limb, followed by a slurred speech. According to the Mayo Clinic, because the disease affects the nerve cells in the brain and spine that control muscle movement, patients slowly lose their ability to speak, eat, walk and breathe on their own.

TAYLER SUTERKO/Tayler Ashley Photography Amanda Stevens

There is currently no cure for the disease, which typically claims the lives of those who are diagnosed with it within three to five years.

The news was devastating for Stevens, who joined the Los Angeles Fire Department in 2015 after playing college football at the University of California, Berkeley, followed by a stint with the St. Louis Rams.

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Amanda Stevens/Instagram Eric and Amanda Stevens

"The diagnosis and subsequent education they received about the horrific disease was the worst news one could ever imagine," a description on a Facebook page set up for Stevens reads.

But the couple announced a silver lining in August 2020, one year after Stevens' diagnosis: they were expecting their first child together.

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"It was just the good news that we've been waiting for and what we really needed," Amanda told PEOPLE after the announcement they were having a daughter. "It gives us something to look forward to… We want her to come tomorrow!"

TAYLER SUTERKO/Tayler Ashley Photography Eric and Amanda Stevens

"It's such a gift, and we feel very fortunate and grateful that we're able to enjoy this moment because there's times where I wasn't sure if we were going to be able to, or if I was going to be around to have kids," Eric Stevens added. "And so the fact that we're able to makes it extra special, and makes her, the baby, extra special, too."

While preparing for their daughter's arrival, the couple has remained committed to ALS advocacy. They have fought for legislation that would make potential treatments available to patients outside of exclusive clinical trials.

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Rick & his wife Eileen Marks talk about Rick's journey and the organization ALS ONE

Their biggest focus is HR 7071, a bill that would allow patients early access to treatments stuck in those clinical trials.

"We're really trying to push people to contact their representatives and ask them to co-sponsor this bill [because] Eric's in a race against time," Amanda told PEOPLE. "This fight is urgent, and it's so important now because I want him to be here, I want to see him be a dad and watch her grow up."

While the family strives for access to other treatments, Stevens says his friends and family — which just grew by one member — is the reason why he's been able to hold on to happiness during the ordeal.

"I think the support I have around me, my friends, my family and Amanda are a huge help," he said, "and a huge contributing factor to how I stay positive."