PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Ryan Clark will not take the field when the Steelers and Broncos open their season in Denver Sunday night.

The thin air of Mile-High Stadium nearly took his life five years ago. Pain symptoms brought on by high altitude and the sickle cell gene would cost him his spleen and gall bladder.

Clark lost forty pounds following that mile-high game in Denver. In the early going, even morphine could not ease the pain.

“Research sickle cell, finding a cure. That’s what this is about,” Clark says.

Flanked by doctors and patients, the Steelers safety unveiled Ryan Clark’s Cure League.

“Sickle cell is fatal,” Clark says. “My sister-in-law died at the age of 27, the year after I had my crisis. So this is important to me.”

He was encouraged to step forward by Dr. Mark Gladwin, sickle cell and lung specialist at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital.

“It affects one of about 500 African Americans in the US that have the disease,” Dr. Gladwin says. “About one out of ten has one copy of the gene, like Ryan, the trait.”

For those with sickle cell disease, Ryan Clark is seen as a symbol of hope.

“I’m still here,” Clark says. “It says that I’m still around to play this game I love, you know, and in this situation, sickle cell got beat. We want to try to find a way to beat it in other people’s lives also.”

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