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Steelers Safety Ryan Clark Out As A Precaution To Sickle Cell Trait

The Pittsburgh Steelers will likely be without one of their key defensive starters when they open the NFL season at Denver on Sunday night.

Free safety Ryan Clark is expected to miss the game because of the health risks imposed by Denver’s high altitude, according to an ESPN report.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin unilaterally made the same decision for his player last January when he chose to sit Clark in Denver for what would turned out to be a season-ending playoff loss for Pittsburgh. The 11-year pro out of LSU was also held out of his team’s last regular season trip to Denver in 2009, as well as a 2010 preseason game.

Clark, who will be replaced in the lineup by Ryan Mundy, carries the sickle cell trait — a genetic abnormality which can affect red blood cells. He was playing in Denver in October 2007 when he developed significant pain in his left side. He became gravely ill, ultimately losing his spleen and gall bladder, along with the remainder of that football season, as a result.

He was eventually able to regain his health and return to football, but the possibility of another episode in high altitude was not something the Steelers want to risk. Clark will travel with the team and offer support from the sideline, but will not dress for the game.

Clark has already lost a sister-in-law to the same condition, and one of his children also carries the sickle cell trait. Those who carry it are typically free of symptoms, but, as Clark discovered, the condition can result in severe pain or, in the worst cases, even death during extreme circumstances such as dehydration or high elevation.

Clark’s personal history with the sickle cell gene and disease inspired him to establish the foundation which will bear his name. Ryan Clark’s Cure League formally launches its website – – on Tuesday.

“We’re going to dedicate our efforts solely to sickle cell research and patient care,” Clark said. “What we’re hoping is we can be the pioneers here.”

An estimated 2 million Americans carry one of the sickle cell genes.

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