staff, September 13, 2014

About 1,000 babies are born in the United States each year with this debilitating disease, and about 70,000 to 100,000 Americans are estimated to have it.

It?s sickle cell disease, and though it?s the most common genetic disorder in the U.S., it isn?t particularly well understood. That?s why former Rutgers football stars Jason and Devin McCourty are trying to raise awareness about this condition.

Sickle cell disease attacks red blood cells, causing them to become sickle-shaped and keeping them from being able to pass through small blood vessels. When this happens, blood flow decreases and clots form internally, which can cause all kinds of health complications, including failure of major organs. Moreover, the disorder overwhelmingly impacts African Americans, who often don?t have access to high-quality health care.

The McCourty twins partnered with Embrace Kids Foundation to form Tackle Sickle Cell in late 2012 to educate the public, increase blood donations and raise money for the fight against the disease.

?Sickle cell disease affected us at a young age because my father carried the trait,? Devin said. ?I remember we took a blood test at five years old to see if we carried the trait as well, and it was a relief when we learned we didn?t. That didn?t end the journey with sickle cell because both our aunt and uncle had the disease.?

Tackle Sickle CellThe McCourtys excelled at Rutgers from 2005-2009, lining up in the same defensive backfield. Devin was a two-time all-conference selection and was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. Jason served as a team captain in 2008 and was drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans.

The duo has excelled in the NFL as well. Devin earned a Pro Bowl selection in 2010 and was named to the Associated Press All-Pro Second Team in 2010 and 2013. Jason was named a Titans team captain during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Their off-the-field accomplishments have been just as significant. In early June, the twins raised $45,000 their second-annual Tackle Sickle Cell 5K Run/Walk in Jersey City, N.J. Additionally, Devin was awarded the Ron Burton Community Service Award in August, given annually to the Patriots player that demonstrates outstanding community service work.

Overall, Tackle Sickle Cell has raised $100,000 in its first 20 months. Additionally, with their assistance, the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Medical Program was incorporated into Rutgers? Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in July 2013.

To date, all of the funds raised by the McCourtys? campaign have been somehow connected to the Rutgers community. But the twins are expanding the organization into the cities where they currently play. Jason is working with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, while Devin is working with Boston Children?s Hospital and will hold a Casino Night fundraiser at The Brahmin in late October.

?I?m so excited to bring Tackle Sickle Cell to Boston,? Devin said. ?I?ve had a chance to personally meet so many of these families through my visits to Boston Children?s Hospital. Now we have an opportunity to have an even greater impact on their lives.?

Thanks to groups like Tackle Sickle Cell, which has funded further research and led to expanded treatment, many affected individuals today live into their 40s and beyond - a vast improvement over the average life expectancy of 14 back in the 1970s. With further research in genetics and molecular biology, a cure for sickle cell disease now seems achievable. And the McCourty brothers won?t stop their work until that goal is reached.


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