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Wednesday, August 30, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Now, it's dad Engram's chance to change a life

Seattle Times staff columnist

When he got home from Washington, following last October's loss to the Redskins, the pain from Bobby Engram's broken ribs was so bad he couldn't hug his children.

It was so bad he couldn't comfortably get out of bed the next day. Couldn't hoist his daughter Bobbi into the air. Couldn't be himself.

But three weeks later, the Seahawks wide receiver was back on the field, accepting the ill-intentioned helmets safeties were digging into his damaged ribs, gritting his teeth, catching Matt Hasselbeck's passes and playing through the pain that lasted through the Super Bowl.

Pain is part of football. And pain has been part of Bobby Engram's life since he put on his first pair of pads.

But there are levels of pain and levels of endurance that even Engram never understood until Bobbi was born.

Eight years ago, Engram's baby girl was diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia, a hereditary form of anemia in which the red blood cells become sickle-shaped and less able to carry oxygen. The chronic disease occurs most frequently in people of African descent.

Bobbi has a rare form of the disease that results in episodes of severe pain. Her body can be wracked with cramps. Sometimes it's a full body cramp. Sometimes it's a stomach cramp or a cramp in her legs.

Through her young life, she has had to deal with pain no NFL veteran would accept. She has suffered through nights no child should have to experience.

When the episodes hit, Engram and his wife, Deanna, spend all night rubbing Bobbi's body with oils, applying hot packs and hydrating her with Gatorade and water. The episodes can last two or three days.

"It's tough when you see your kid going through something like that and being in pain, but she's an inspiration because, I mean, she's tough," Engram said Tuesday. "I wish, often times, when she goes through one of her pain crises I could take her pain away. But she is a tough little cookie."

Bobbi deals with the pain without self-pity. She accepts the discomfort with an athlete's stoicism. Like many children with chronic diseases, she has an innate ability to rise above her illness.

"To see her go through this disease, it just taught me that life is going to bring some tough things your way and we've just got to deal with it," Engram said. "It's just the way it is. I feel like I'm a better person simply because she was born. The day she was born, it changed my life forever in ways I can't even explain in an interview.

"She's such a loving and outgoing kid that you would never know that she's got the disease. She doesn't tell anybody. I think that she and other kids who have an illness like this just appreciate life and the little things in life a little bit more than some of us do who have our health. I see with my little girl, everything she does is intense."

Through his daughter's illness, Engram has learned about the importance of community. He knows, first-hand, the impact doctors and nurses and volunteers at Children's Hospital and Odessa Brown Children's Clinic can have.

He knows just how little information most people have about sickle-cell anemia and he wants to be a force to help educate the public and eventually eradicate the disease.

Engram will take the first step with Bobbi and the rest of the family at the Walk for Sickle Cell Disease, beginning at 9:15 a.m. Sunday at the south entrance to Seward Park.

"I feel like sickle cell is a silent disease and a silent killer," Engram said. "That's one of the reasons I'm stepping forward, not just in Seattle, but I'm trying to take this thing nationwide in the next few years. I want to bring awareness to our community.

"A lot of African-Americans, we have the trait and we don't even know it. I don't think we have enough dialogue going on about the disease in our community or in our nation and hopefully I can help change that. It's a hush-hush disease that's not being talked about a lot, but there's a lot of people who go through a lot of pain as a result of it."

Bobby and Deanna didn't know they had the sickle-cell trait. It just wasn't something they talked about, or thought about.

"It just never came up," Engram said. "So now we want to get the lines of communication started. I thought I was a pretty smart guy and I really had no knowledge that I was carrying that trait. Now I'm just trying to get people out there so they don't feel embarrassed or feel ashamed to talk about it."

Bobby and Bobbi will take the first step Sunday on a journey they believe won't end until a cure is found.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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