Nine year-old Jasen Royal has been battling sickle cell anemia (SCA) his entire life. The chronic blood disorder poses difficulties for a young boy who dreams of playing football, as strong physical contact is a risk to his health. This week, however, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris found a way for Jasen to be a part of the game he loves, offering him the opportunity to receive professional football player treatment for an entire weekend.
On Thursday, as more than 100 SCA patients and their families celebrated Thanksgiving at the Children's Cancer Center, Morris not only surprised the families in attendance with tickets to the next Buccaneers home game, but also announced that Royal and his father would be given seats on the team plane to Jacksonville on the weekend of December 10-11.
"This means a lot to us as a family," said Jasen's father, Will Brooks. "It just means a lot to us that Coach would take time out of his busy schedule and come down here to the Cancer Center and present my family with tickets to the Buccaneers game. It's just an unbelievable experience."
Royal and Brooks will attend the Buccaneers-Jaguars game in a club suite, enjoy limo service to and from the airport and take part in a Saturday sightseeing tour of Jacksonville accompanied by a representative of the Buccaneers organization.
"Words can't express how we feel that Jasen gets an opportunity to kick back for a little bit and not worry about Sickle Cell," said Ronnette Brooks, Jasen's mother.
Sickle cell anemia, also known as sickle cell disease, is a recessive genetic blood disorder characterized by an over-dominance of red blood cells that assume an abnormal and rigid sickle shape. This inherited abnormality results in a variety of health complications, including shortened life expectancy.
In addition to Morris' special gift to Jasen and his dad, all families in attendance on Thursday evening were given four tickets to the December 4 game versus the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium.
"It's a beautiful thing to have someone that cares enough to take time out of their busy day and work schedule just to give back to the community," said India Smith, whose infant daughter is affected by sickle cell anemia. "Seeing the smiles and reaction on the children's faces, especially with the tickets given out for the upcoming game, it's just a pleasure to have met [Coach Morris] and to be a part of this event."
Morris, whose family has been touched by sickle cell anemia, is passionate about helping families cope with the challenging and debilitating disease.
"It affects my family, my god-daughter, my cousins, and it's just important to come out and give back to the community," he said. "When you get an opportunity to do it, no matter how busy your work schedule is, you've got to reach out and grasp that opportunity."
Children's Cancer Center is the only organization of its kind in greater Tampa Bay, dedicated to serving families, regardless of their financial situations, who are affected by chronic blood disorders, most commonly sickle cell anemia.
"When the Buccaneers approached us to help with the event tonight, it was so important to us because it not only raises awareness, but also gives these families something special that is uniquely their own," said Alan Mock, director of marketing for Children's Cancer Center. "Having Coach Morris come and hand out a ticket to everyone here to the Carolina game is awesome, and taking Mr. [Brooks] and his son, Jasen, on the team plane to Jacksonville is unreal, so we're very appreciative."
The Children's Cancer Center is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to serving Tampa Bay families of children with cancer or chronic blood disorders. With 25 programs and services currently helping over 850 families, support is offered to all members of the family and is available throughout every step of their difficult journey, including diagnosis, treatment, survivorship and bereavement. For more information, visit ChildrensCancerCenter.org.