By Ben Jones
The Penn State football team traveled to the Hershey Children’s Hospital on Wednesday with nearly all 120-plus members of the Nittany Lion roster making the two-hour trip along with head coach James Franklin.
It was a community visit, a chance to put a smile on a few children’s faces and take a few photos.
But for Franklin the visit meant something a little more.
“My youngest daughter has Sickle Cell,” Franklin said. The revelation was stated so bluntly that it nearly missed the handful of reporters in attendance, but at the same time his words carried a weight that could not be ignored.
According to Franklin the news reached his family by mail following the birth of their youngest and now 5-year-old daughter Addy. A letter from the federal government simply told them she had been diagnosed with the disease; a disease that occurs in 1 out of every 500 African-American births according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
In layman’s terms Sickle Cells Anemia creates red blood cells that are sickle shaped rather than the normal disc shape. As a result, the misshapen blood cells may block blood flow in the blood vessels of the limbs and organs. It can cause pain and organ damage as well as raise the risk of infection.
“We’re fortunate our daughter is doing great,” Franklin said. “But when (my family) comes we’re going to come and have a trip down here and have a talk with the doctors, and a person who used to run the Sickle Cell branch at the hospital now lives in State College. So it’s a tremendous blessing.”
“There’s going to come a point where we’re going to do something. We talked about today about possibly my wife getting involved with fundraising with the hospital or starting a foundation or something like that,” Franklin said. “Sickle Cell is one of the most underfunded disease (prevention) out there. So that’s why coming here today was great. It was a factor with us coming to Penn State, making sure that we were going to have the right kind of support.”
But as a man who is nothing if not proactive and acting with the big picture in mind, Franklin is hopeful that his daughter’s situation can be turned into a positive. He and his family can make an impact in ways that go beyond the football field.
“We’d like to,” Franklin said about raising awareness. “It typically goes under the oncology department, so the Four Diamonds, that’s why it was even a little bit more special to be a part of THON. I would think we’re going to get more and more involved with that as well.”
“I just want to get my family here first and then kind of sort through all this stuff,” Franklin said as he prepared to board the bus back to State College. “It was a big factor with us coming to Penn State, that we were going to be able to get the right kind of care for our daughter.”