By Teresa Varley
Steelers.com When Brett Keisel first hosted the Cystic Fibrosis 65 Roses Sports Auction a few years ago it was a way for him to get involved in the community. Now it's a passion, something that has deep meaning for him.
And there is a good reason. The first year he hosted Keisel met Emma Chichilla, who serves as one of the CF Ambassadors. Her innocence and strength, battling a tough disease, got to Keisel.
"It's gotten personal for me and my family because we met Emma when I first hosted it," said Keisel. "She stole our hearts. We are happy with the way things are going. I think Cystic Fibrosis is close to coming up with a cure. People are living 20 years longer than usual. Anything we can do to help we love to do."
Keisel remains in touch with Chichilla and was happy to see her again at the event this year, as the now seven-year old and him have become good friends.
"It's crazy," said Keisel. "She tells me when I missed a tackle or if I did something. It's been amazing watching her grow up. She has a lot of knowledge now versus when I first met her."
And what Keisel might not realize is that relationship, along with others he has formed with kids with cystic fibrosis, has gone a long way.
"He can piece together and see he is making a difference in their lives by being here," said Pat Joseph, the executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of Cystic Fibrosis. "He has come to embrace the children that are fighting for life. He has grown with us. He knows what he is talking about. Sometimes I feel he knows the science and research better than I do.
"It means so much to see someone like Brett embrace Emma and she is enamored by him. I think she looks at him as a friend and has grown with that. There is such an impact on a lot of these kids. It means a lot. It actually physically manifests itself. They feel his love and his friendship so it means everything."
This is the fourth year that Keisel has taken the lead role for the event, which the Steelers have a long history with. Having a history of CF in his family made it easy for him to be involved and his commitment is priceless to the organization.
"We are so privileged to be a partner with one of the many things the Steelers do to support charities in the Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania market," said Joseph. "For a foundation that is looking for awareness and to raise the level of appreciation for what children and young adults that have cystic fibrosis experience, this event means everything to us.
"We partner up the notoriety of a great guy like Brett Keisel and all of his friends who come and that just raises the awareness to such a level that we are all winners tonight."
Keisel was joined at the event by over a dozen of his teammates, who signed autographs and helped in the effort to raise funds and awareness for the disease. It's also the chance to meet some friends he has gotten to know along the way who have cystic fibrosis and meet some new friends.
"These kids pull at my heart," said Keisel. "I look forward to coming and seeing them and see how much they have grown and changed. It's fun to see that stuff."
To view the full photo gallery by Teresa Varley click on 65 Roses Sports Auction and go to Events.