Rare Disease Report

RDR Sports Report Denver Worries NFL Players with Sickle Cell Trait

OCTOBER 12, 2016
Andrew Black
Last week, Atlanta Falcons’ running back Tevin Coleman had a decision to make – to play and help contribute to a team win or watch from the sidelines.
To play in the high altitudes of Denver, Colorado posed a threat to Coleman’s health since he carries the sickle cell trait. The blood disorder related to sickle cell disease can potentially (although rarely) cause complications if an individual is under physical stress in environments with low oxygen.
In the end, did decide to play and was fine but the unknowns associated with exerting oneself in unfamiliar areas is a constant concern for many with this condition.
Many remember former NFL player and current ESPN analyst Ryan Clark, who also has the sickle cell trait, who became gravely ill and eventually lost his spleen and gall bladder after playing a game in Denver.
A Baltimore Raven commended Coleman for speaking up about the concern and states that more players need to be aware of the situation if they are a carrier.
"I think it was good that he came out and said it," said Ravens cornerback Jerraud Powers, adding, "Because a lot of people are not aware that the trait can flare up and cause a problem."
Powers found out he was a carrier at a young age, and stated that he felt the exhaustion during his college playing years, but didn’t know that carrying the trait is what caused it.
After seeking in depth medical attention for his immediate tiredness after practices, he then became aware of the conditions of carrying sickle cell trait. He learned that fatigued came from the low oxygen levels in his blood and with dehydration as well.
Although rare, the CDC states, in some cases, people with the sickle cell trait can be harmed by increased atmosphere pressure, low oxygen levels, dehydration and high altitudes.
"It's tough. I took the precautionary steps that I needed to take as far as making sure that when I came off, I got the oxygen and everything I needed to survive out there” said Powers.
With his appreciation for Coleman speaking up about the sickle cell trait, Powers encourages other NFL players to educate themselves, considering, statistically, many of them may be affected.

About sickle cell trait

Sickle cell trait means having one gene for a condition called sickle cell disease (SCD). This in itself does not normally cause problems and sickle cell trait is not considered as a disease. It is extremely rare for it to cause problems or complications, which mainly occur under conditions of severe physical stress (explained below).

About sickle cell disease

Sickle cell disease is a rare genetic condition that affects 90,000 to 100,000 Americans, mostly African Americans. A person with sickle cell disease has red blood cells that are hard, sticky, and C-shaped (like the farm tool the "sickle"). These cells clog smaller blood vessels resulting in pain as well as increased risk for infection, acute chest syndrome and stroke.

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