Ryan Clark, Denver, and Sickle Cell Disease

It has been well documented that Ryan Clark suffered a life threatening battle the last time he suited up in the oxygen deprived high altitude of Denver. As a result of his sickle cell crisis, he sacrificed his spleen, gallbladder, and could have potentially lost his life. Following this traumatic episode, our galliant Steeler warrior suffered dramatic weight loss as he fought his way back down a long road of recovery. In my opinion, it was the greatest comeback since Rocky Bleier. Presently, the debate continues as to whether or not he should participate in our upcoming battle with the undefeated Denver Broncos.

First, lets take a closer look at the disease that not only threatened his professional career, but also potentially could have cost him his life. Sickle Cell Disease is an inherited disorder of the oxygen carrying cells of the blood. This abnormality involves the substitution of one protein building block, an amino acid, for another amino acid at a key point in one of the chains of the major protein of red blood cells. The name of this protein is hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is an iron containing protein found inside red blood cells. It carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body and releases it to the body's cells and tissues.

Abnormal hemoglobin is very sensitive to conditions of low oxygen within the body. Under these conditions, a sickle cell crisis may occur because the abnormal hemoglobin loses it's solubility in blood and begins to form thick polymer strands. Consequently, these polymers hold the red blood cells in abnormal shapes which have been described as banana shaped or half moon shaped hence the term "sickle cell". Abnormally shaped "sickle cells" cause vasoocclusion which means the blocking of small blood vessels. If these cells become lodged in small blood vessels, they obstruct the flow of blood. If the flow of blood is obstructed, oxygen cannot reach the tissue comprising the organ. As a result, the tissue becomes necrotic (the cells comprising the tissue dies) and organ failure occurs. Organs that require a large amount of blood flow and oxygen are particularly susceptible .

Considering all the potential medical complications that could arise as a result of participating in this game, I do not think it would be wise for Ryan Clark to play in Denver. It is true that these types of complications are rare, but it could certainly happen again. It is only one game in the long journey of a season and Steeler Nation would completely understand if you stood along the sidelines. It is simply not worth the risk. One day the roar of the crowd will subside and your family, who loves you dearly, needs you to be there for them in the future.

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