The Strongest Man I Have Ever Met

Nurse and ALS patient keep the faith, sharing a special bond.
What began as stubborn pain in his left leg progressed through his body. The diagnosis hit with devastating weight. Three letters. ALS.
Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 8:01 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2023 at 3:24 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - It’s 1 p.m. on a Wednesday, and Jessica Shifner watches over her patient in hospital room 6113.

“He is not able to eat or speak at this time … but he’s a fighter,” she says softly.

She caresses his hand, motionless on the blankets, then asks, “So that doesn’t stop us… does it?”

The man in her care is unable to move.

But he can still hear her. His eyes - still see. And they still cry.

Jessica uses her index finger to wipe away the tears.

The man in this hospital bed is 49-year-old Tacauma Lettsome. In 2020, he was working in a law enforcement career that spanned several years and agencies including Richland County, West Columbia and the Department of Mental Health. He was an assistant basketball coach and school resource officer at Ridge View High School.

What began as stubborn pain in his left leg progressed through his body. The diagnosis hit with devastating weight. Three letters. ALS.

While the slow crush of the disease has wrenched speech and movement away, Tacauma communicates with the outside world through a computer, called Toby: a device that miraculously translates his eye movements into words.

The computer monitor bears a sticker that reads “Team Gleason”, the organization headed up by former New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason whose own battle with ALS captured worldwide attention.

From the monitor… Tacauma’s words sputter out, echoing through the room.

“I…. aim…. to get better.”

“No… other choice… than to inspire…”

One person he’s likely impacted most is Jessica: the nurse who watches him fight every day.

“He has changed my life… he absolutely has. I often say he is the strongest man I have ever, ever met,” Jessica admits.

Incredibly, Tacauma still maintains a sense of humor, that he shares with his nurse.

“He could be having the worst day ever. And he’s gonna find a way to make you smile, laugh… and even make this hard Capricorn cry.”

Tacauma also fights as a father; showing his son, 5-year-old Arrington what true strength looks like.

When speaking about his son, Tacauma said he wants Arrington to remember, “Daddy never quit… no matter what.”

“My son wants to play basketball with me,” Tacauma said.

“I am darn sure going try.”

The life expectancy after a diagnosis of ALS is typically 2-5 years. Tacauma is in year 4. He needs a ventilator to keep breathing. But as long as he’s breathing, he still has the one thing few people can do without: Hope.

Tacauma says the disease is “not going to break me that easy”

To extend his life- and possibly reverse some of the damage caused by ALS, Tacauma says what he really needs- is stem cell therapy.

While using stem cells to treat ALS is in the early stages, it holds promise. Tacauma has raised 3100 of the 20,000 dollars needed for stem cell therapy. Click here to donate:

Hearing his voice through the monitor in room 6113, one thing became abundantly clear. While those three letters- ALS- have taken so much, they cannot take his heart.

They cannot take his soul.

And they cannot touch his Christian faith… “God is not dead,” Tacauma states with tears welling in his eyes.

“By His stripes I am healed.”

When asked how he is able to inspire others from a hospital bed he simply says, “WWJD?”

As those letters linger on the screen, Jessica gently touches her patient’s hand once again.

“He can’t get rid of me now,” she says with a soft chuckle.

A moment passes.

Then Tacauma’s voice comes from the monitor: “Team Us.”

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