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Former Falcon football player speaks about sickle cell disease

Tevin and Akilah Coleman share what it's like to take care of a child with sickle cell disease.

ATLANTA — An NFL player from Atlanta is opening up about his daughter's health journey to help people battling sick cell disease feel less alone.

You may know Tevin Coleman from his time as a stand-out running back going to battle for the Atlanta Falcons on the field, but many don't know his family's battle off the field.

The Atlanta native and his wife are both carriers of sickle cell trait, a blood disorder that can result in fatigue, joint pain, and infections. Neither Tevin nor Akilah have the disease, but they face high odds of passing it on to a child.

“Starting our family, it was complicated, of course," Akilah said. 

Shortly after being born in 2017, Nazaneen was diagnosed with the disease, while her brother, Nezerah, was diagnosed with the trait. The illness affects one in every 13 black people in America and is now a part of the four-year-old's everyday life. 

Akilah said she tries to be proactive when caring for her daughter while maintaining her innocence.

“We disguise a lot of what she experiences and what she goes through as self-care," she said. "We just teach her to take care of herself and to know how to identify pains. We just teach her how to identify that through a child's lens." 

For the couple, it’s essential that despite such adjustments, their daughter enjoys a good quality of life. 

Akilah said they focus on their daughter's mental and physical health by engaging her in yoga, ballet, and gymnastics. Tevin said the most challenging part about it for him is trying to support his wife and daughter in Atlanta while now playing for the 49ers in San Francisco. 

“Being away from her is a battle for me that I fight every day. I know my daughter is going to be protected by my wife and protected by caregivers that is here. So that gives me, you know, kind of a weight off my shoulders a little bit," explains Tevin.

The pair decided to keep their children in Atlanta to ensure Nazaneen had access to the doctors and sickle cell disease community she's known since birth.

The football family shares their story as Tevin prepares to don a new pair of cleats next month. As part of the NFL's My Cause My Cleats, players wear custom cleats during the 13th week of the season to highlight a reason that's important to them.

Tevin and Akilah say it's just another chance to share their family's journey with the sickle disease in hopes of helping other families.

“We just spread awareness and we want our families to not feel alone," says Tevin. 

Earlier this year, the pair announced a partnership with Global Blood Therapeutics and Sickle Cell Speaks to raise awareness about Sickle Cell Disease. They say they're also working on a book to share advice for parents and children impacted by SCD on how to live a full and thriving life. They say the book is expected to be released by early 2023.

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