Former Verbum Dei, USC standout contracted disease in January
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — His head shaved bald and his face a bit thinner than before, Kenechi Udeze otherwise looked fit and strong Friday as he proudly announced a pair of remarkable developments in his three-month fight against leukemia.
The disease is in remission, and the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive end has found a bone marrow donor.
“I just kept my faith, and here we are today,” said Udeze, who just found out on Wednesday his blood and his bone marrow were cancer-free.
He has also learned his older brother, Thomas Barnes, is a match for his marrow and will be able to donate for a yet-to-be-scheduled transplant.
Udeze did not rule out participation in the upcoming NFL season, but for now putting the pads back on is not a short-term goal. He must still undergo chemotherapy twice a week and has more progress to make before his body is back to normal.
“That’s all I’m focusing on right now. Football’s not going anywhere, and just like football I’m not going anywhere,” Udeze said.
His condition at this point, though, is clearly best-case scenario for this disease, defined as cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Udeze began to be bothered by migraine headaches in early February and after about a week he realized something else was wrong.
He didn’t believe the diagnosis at first, but he quickly rooted himself in the power of positive thinking and continued to rely on his Christian faith and the support of friends, family and teammates to push through the difficult first few weeks. Ray Edwards brought video games, Erasmus James came with DVDs, and Pat Williams showed up with food to help him cope during a 24-day hospital stay.
Though Udeze must take it easy with physical activity — an overzealous workout after his initial discharge resulted in a 105-degree temperature that lasted five days and sent him back to the hospital — he said he has hardly felt sick at all during the process.
“I tell ‘em I have nothing but a cold, because that’s what it feels like,” Udeze said. “I’m not feeling down or anything like that. That’s the way you have to attack it. You have to have a good attitude and a good mind-set, and that’s something that I naturally always have.”
Udeze came to Minnesota’s practice facility on Friday evening to raise awareness for the National Marrow Donor Program, a locally based nonprofit that facilitates transplants and helps connect patients, doctors, donors and researchers for the cause.
His appearance kicked off a 24-hour fundraising session of youth and adult soccer games, held on the team’s indoor field all night and the next day. Former Vikings tight end Doug Kingsriter, who is president of The Marrow Foundation, joined Udeze in welcoming the participants. The 25-year-old former first round draft pick out of Southern California was also accompanied by his wife, Terrica, and their 41/2-month-old daughter, Bailey.
More than 10,000 people annually around the world develop diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma and don’t have a matching marrow donor in their family, according to the organization.
The uncertainty of Udeze’s situation — it remains highly unlikely he’ll be able to play in 2008 — has compounded an area of weakness for the Vikings, who ranked last in the league last year in passing defense. James is also recovering from a second straight offseason knee surgery.
The Vikings have the 17th pick in the NFL Draft next weekend, when they’ll surely strongly consider taking another defensive end. But they might not wait that long to upgrade the position.
All-Pro Jared Allen, the league’s reigning sacks leader who was slapped with the franchise player tag by the Kansas City Chiefs, was at Winter Park on Friday to visit with team officials. Minnesota and Tampa Bay have each been talking about a trade with the Chiefs.