By Teresa Varley
Many of those who attended the Cystic Fibrosis 65 Roses Sports Auction at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association were anxious to meet Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel and his teammates who were on hand to sign autographs.
But they got a bonus when the first autograph they were able to receive was that of six-year old Emma Chichilla, who serves as one of the CF Ambassadors. Chichilla sat right next to Keisel and scrawled Emma on napkins for everyone who came through the line.
"Last year she was so shy coming up to me," said Keisel, who spent a lot of the evening hanging out with Chichilla. "I didn't know if she thought I was scary looking or what. It amazes me from the first time I did this when she was three and now she is six. She has such a personality. She is running around and having fun. She is doing wonderful. I love her."
Keisel is the honorary chair for the event and recruited over a dozen of his teammates to take part in an effort to raise funds and awareness for the disease.
"A lot of people don't know what Cystic Fibrosis is or what people that have the disease go through every day," said Pat Joseph, the executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of CF. "This is a great opportunity to match the Steelers with us and raise awareness. We are getting sports fans through the door and that helps us raise dollars to fund the drive. We are at a crucial point right now. We have a large number of therapies that are right on the cusp of becoming available to the patient base. We are celebrating a Steelers win and the Steelers victory towards a cure."
This is the third 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.
"He understands what we are trying to accomplish and wants to be a part of it," said Joseph. "He has his own growing family and can relate to what the families are going through and are challenged with. He knows he can help make a difference and all of those things make him a big part of our team."
Keisel, who will miss his second straight game against the Cowboys on Sunday because of a knee injury, didn't let the pain that he might have been feeling even enter his mind when he took a look at those who are fighting a much tougher battle.
"I don't feel anything. I am not hurt, I am just nicked up," said Keisel. "These people go through more than I could imagine. I am great compared to a lot of them. But you won't ever see them complain or act like they are different than anybody else which makes them special. Most of these kids run around with smiles on their faces and are happy to be alive. We don't know the troubles they go through with this disease. To see them happy really brightens my day."