Sickle Cell aWAREness Foundation
A Kansas City Chief Runs Forward to Find a Cure
Spencer Ware is a crusader on a mission to educate, encourage and ultimately find a cure for this inherited blood disorder.
As a running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, Spencer Ware is no stranger to sweet victories and celebratory triumphs. He made NFL headlines in 2016 running for 921 yards and gaining 447 yards in pass receptions. He was on fire, and it appeared he would be the starter for the following season. Unfortunately, life had other plans, as Ware sustained a season-ending injury that year. True to the champion he is, however, Ware turned that stumbling block over and created a stepping stone to tackle something far greater than himself. Not only did he recover and has resumed playing with the Chiefs, he also established the Sickle Cell aWAREness Foundation with the sole purpose of spreading awareness about a disease that has been a significant part of his life since he was a young boy.
“The Sickle Cell disease/trait (SCD) affects more than others may be aware of,” expressed Ware, who has multiple family members struggling with this disease. “Sickle Cell runs throughout my family and the Sickle Cell aWAREness Foundation aims to spend its time being involved with social and health issues that are overlooked in today’s world.”
In particular, Spencer’s mother, Cashawna Franklin (pictured), stands as one of 100,000 individuals in the United States who suffer from SCD, clinically referred to as “an inherited form of anemia, a condition in which there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen throughout your body.” This disorder affects hemoglobin, which is the protein in red blood cells that help transport oxygen throughout the body. Sickle cell anemia occurs when a person inherits two abnormal genes that ultimately cause those red blood cells to change their shape from round and flexible to the shape of a crescent moon, or that of the old form implement referred to as a sickle. Hence, the name. Approximately two million people in the United States have the Sickle Cell Trait and one in every ten African-Americans carries this trait. Through his Foundation, Ware pushes to educate the public, encourage victims and ultimately find a cure for SCD.
As Ware was growing up, he struggled with the emotional impact component of this disease, not knowing whether or not his mother was going to die, often leaving his family in state of limbo. When he was just eight years old, he was told that his mom may not even live past her twenties. Along with his siblings, Ware watched his mother struggle daily with this disease, spending days, nights, and sometimes months at a time by her side in the hospital, never knowing what the next day might bring.
“My mom would be in and out of the hospital for months at a time,” recalled Ware. “I could only imagine the way that made her feel as a parent, a child, a sibling and a daughter. My mom went through a lot, all because she was born with Sickle Cell Disease.”
A “normal” lifestyle for Franklin included enduring numerous blood clots and blood transfusions, and at one point, an entire year was literally erased from her life when she was in high school because she was due to hospital confinement during her high school years.
“She missed out a lot on her social life growing up and that is affecting her now, even as an adult,” reflected Ware.
Complications with Sickle Cell Disease are not to be taken lightly, as Ware and his family are all too familiar with experiencing the constant lingering threat of heart issues.
“In 2016, my mom had to have open heart surgery to repair a valve,” noted Ware, who wasted no time in applauding his mother’s strong spirit throughout all of her health battles. “She has displayed enormous amounts of courage and strength.”
The greatest fear for Ware and his family, however, rests in the unknown. SCD takes a strong toll on the patient and the family.
“Some days, she wants to give up,” said Ware. “It is difficult for her to make ways to provide when she is always ill, especially when she is unable to work at all.”
Ware has been a strong presence back on the football field this past season, but he pushes himself just as hard when it comes to promoting and supporting his Foundation. He wants to ensure his mom can continue to fight this battle, so she can look forward to watching her son play every Sunday.
Since its inception, Ware’s Foundation has been quite successful in its fundraising initiatives. At a recent event, it raised more than $6,000 over one weekend, which was used to immediately feed 600+ families in two different states, three cities and four locations in the metro area and in Ware’s hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.
“Everything was coordinated with myself and my wife Hope, on site and in each state, thanks to my family members and board members,” said Ware. “Even my mom was out there helping in the cold. Unfortunately, she had to be admitted into the ER right after that event.”
Additionally, Ware intends to bring an increased focus on professional athletes who are affected by this disease, many of whom are in the NFL.
“People do not even know what it takes to be affected by the SC disease/trait,” emphasized Ware.
Ware appreciates everything the Kansas City community has been doing and continues to promote his Foundation, offering appreciation towards local organizations, companies and groups who have faithfully stood by his side since he established the Foundation, including Butterball Turkey, Hendricks Automotive Group, KC Parks and Recreation, Bob Hamilton Plumbing, Square1Therapy and the Lincoln High School Football Team.
In addition to keeping his Foundation in the limelight, Ware also created his own line of clothing, Yes Lawd, which gives a portion of its sales back to the Foundation.
For those who wish to join Ware in this journey, the first thing to do is help spread the word about the disease and the trait and encourage people who may be at risk to get tested. Individuals can also donate to the Foundation at SCAwareness.org. All funds raised will be used to pursue continued research on the disease with a focus on finding a cure. Most important, however, is focusing on what you can do today, and that begins with educating yourself.
“The Sickle Cell Community feels forgotten or left out, just how my mom feels all the time,” emphasized Ware, who wants to enlighten others because as he indicated, “someone close to you may be affected and you do not know that time is ticking. Let’s help them experience life to the fullest and allow them to gain all the assistance they need to succeed.”
Ware is grateful for everyone who has supported his mission, and most important, appreciates the family he has, without whom he would not be the person he is today.
“As a family, we lean on each other for support, enjoy the moments we share together and never take life for granted,” Ware concluded.
For more information on the Sickle Cell aWAREness Foundation please visit scawareness.org
Sources: scawareness.org, nhlbi.nih.gov, cdc.gov.