Ryan Clark’s Cure League Tackles Sickle Cell

Sep 4, 2012

The Steelers play in Denver Sunday night, and Ryan Clark, who usually starts at safety, will once again be inactive. If he has his way however, Clark and others eventually won’t have to shy away from activities that could affect their genetic disorder—sickle cell trait.

Clark today announced the creation of Ryan Clark’s Cure League, a joint effort to combat the Sickle Cell gene. An estimated 2 million Americans, including one in 500 African Americans, carry at least one sickle cell gene, which may cause red blood cells in the body to become hard, sticky, and “sickle” shaped.  Sickle cell disease is caused by inheriting two copies of the gene, and encompasses a group of inherited blood disorders.   More than 70,000 Americans and millions of people around the world have the disease which causes anemia and severe pain.

Clark’s “league” includes UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh’s Vascular Medicine Institute, and the Institute for Transfusion Medicine. It will raise awareness, donations, and support that will enable Pittsburgh researchers to eventually find a cure for this inherited blood disorder.

Even though the group’s ultimate goal is to cure sickle cell, they will first focus on smaller steps first.

“Whether it figures out a way to help with co-pays for certain medicine- for pain medicines, whether it’s finding a way to get them to the proper hospitals that can help them, we want to do something to help with the daily struggle of someone who suffers from sickle cell trait, sickle cell anemia, sickle thalassemia, and so that’s something that I’m really focused on,” Clark said.

Clark has a vested interest in finding a cure-- his son has the trait, his sister died from it, and his football career was almost ruined by it back in 2007 when the thin air of Denver activated the trait, causing Clark to lose his spleen, gallbladder, and the remainder of the 2007 season.  Clark sat out the Steelers' playoff game in Denver this past January as a precaution.

Clark feels the disease doesn’t get the attention it requires. “I think, if you look at, you know, we talk about all the time, you know, even someone like Oprah has never- for as many people as it affects, she’s never done a show about it,” Clark said. “You know, you’ve never seen people really look at this disease for the fatal disease that it really is.”