PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – He’s known for one of the most iconic catches in Steelers’ Super Bowl history.
Santonio Holmes’s toe-tap catch in Super Bowl 43 wrapped up a victory over the Arizona Cardinals and brought Pittsburgh a then-record sixth Super Bowl title.
Now, with his playing days behind him, Santonio Holmes is dedicating his life to being a different kind of MVP, one that fights for his son TJ and other families affected by Sickle Cell Anemia.
June 19 is also known as World Sickle Cell Day and ahead of that, Holmes, TJ, and TJ’s mother Nicole Long made an appearance on the “World Of Promise” Podcast to discuss being a family living with Sickle Cell Anemia.
“It was very tough on my end because I was going into my senior year of high school, getting ready to go into college,” Holmes said. “I ended up signing a letter of intent to play at Ohio State University and that required me to leave, over 1,700 miles away, a mom who just had a kid and I’m going into my freshman year of college, so it was very frightening for me just to learn that we had sickle cell. My father’s side of the family carried this trait and it had been passed down through us.”
TJ’s mom Nicole had some help, her mother also has Sickle Cell Anemia and helped her and Santonio with what to expect having a son suffering from the disease.
“She was my biggest supporter in helping me along the way because she just told me about some things she went through as a child in having the disease and things that TJ would face,” she said. “Sure enough, we went through those same things.”
When Holmes got to the Steelers, he started the foundation he still runs today, “The III & Long Foundation.”
“A part of the message is getting to those people that are caregivers to allow them to feel safe,” he said. “Allowing our parents that are dealing with kids with sickle cell disease to have the right people to contact.”
Every October in Pittsburgh, they host a bowling event called “Strikes Against Sickle Cell” as a way to raise awareness of the disease and give those kids that may not be able to participate in athletics normally a chance to get out of the house and have some fun.
In 2018, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto declared October 9 Sickle Cell Awareness Day in support of Holmes’s foundation.
It wasn’t until Holmes left the Steelers to go to the Jets that he learned he also suffered from the disease.
“I was about 25-years-old when I was playing for the New York Jets, I had a moment where I felt very lightheaded, I felt dizzy, I couldn’t stand up on my own and I didn’t know what was going on with me,” he recalled. “So I called into our team doctor and they sent me to a hematologist specialist because my vitamin D count was low, my iron was at like a 4, and I didn’t have any strength to stand up on my own. Because I was uneducated as a young man, that I carried this sickle cell trait, I hurt a lot playing sports, running, getting tired, fatigue, because I was uneducated, I had no clue that I was dealing with these complications.”
Both Holmes and Long agree that education is a huge part of dealing with the disease and raising a child with the disease.
“I didn’t find out I carried the trait until I was pregnant with TJ,” Long said. “Become self-educated and know your status, what traits you carry, and your medical history and background.”
“I think both parents before they become parents, should ask questions about their health,” he said. “As a young, black man, growing up in a very poverty-stricken area such as Belle Glade, Florida, the education system is very low. To not have any information about what sickle cell is, or even if you carry this trait, please make sure you share that with your partner.”
You can listen to the full episode on the CSL Behring Website.
More information about the III & Long Foundation can be found here.