Saturday, April 24, 2010

Great Article about Gunnar Esiason

The son also rises

Long a poster boy for a deadly disease, BC student Gunnar Esiason hasn’t let it stop him

CHESTNUT HILL — Seventeen years ago, could Boomer Esiason have imagined that he’d be visiting his son Gunnar at college someday? It’s a fair question, one that Esiason, the former NFL quarterback-turned-broadcaster, doesn’t hesitate to tackle.

“Yup, I did imagine it,’’ he says, smiling in Gunnar’s direction. “And I hope I’m a small part of making that happen, not only for Gunnar but for all kids like him.’’

Now a Boston College freshman, Gunnar, 19, was diagnosed at age 2 with cystic fibrosis, an incurable genetic disorder. Primarily affecting the lungs, CF’s symptoms include persistent coughing, shortness of breath, and vulnerability to infection. Those afflicted with CF must undergo frequent treatments to keep their airways open and mucus-free. Not long ago, life expectancy for CF sufferers was less than 20 years.

Thanks in no small part to the Esiasons, that number has nearly doubled over the past decade. The Boomer Esiason Foundation recently passed the $80 million mark in funds raised for CF research and assists young CF sufferers like Gunnar to lead fuller lives through scholarships and other support services.

From the WEEI-AM (850) airwaves, where he appears as a weekly guest during football season, to his CBS post, where he ranks among pro football’s most astute (and outspoken) analysts, Boomer has leveraged his celebrity in just about every way possible to promote awareness of CF. On a scale of 1 to 10, he registers about a 15 on the athlete-supports-worthy-cause meter. What motivates him? The answer sits four feet away in BC’s Alumni Stadium, where father and son agreed to a joint interview on a recent morning.

“My goal is for Gunnar to outlive me,’’ says Boomer, 49, who might be the proudest dad you’ll find among BC’s Class of 2013 parent pool. “That’s the way it should be. My dream is for him to be a dad himself one day, so he can find out all the anxiety that kids bring to their dads.’’

But sending Gunnar off to college? That, he admits, was “anxiety-ridden’’ for both parents. “You can imagine what a dorm room environment is to a CF parent. It’s like, oh my God. It’s crazy.’’

The Esiasons agreeing to an interview, their first on campus since Gunnar arrived at the Heights last fall, underscores their commitment to put a positive face on the disease and its effect on families.

In 1993, Boomer was playing for the New York Jets when Gunnar was diagnosed with CF. Soon after, the two graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. It was a clear signal they’d be waging a very visible campaign against a deadly disease that afflicts some 30,000 Americans. And so they have.

Gunnar would graduate from Friends Academy on Long Island, where he played ice hockey and football, winning the 2008 12th Man Award from the New York State High School Football Association for overcoming “serious physical injury or disability’’ to contribute to his team’s success.Continued...

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