As Brett Keisel, all six-foot-five of him, scooped up eight-year old Emma Chichilla into his arms, a smile instantly enveloped both of their faces.
For Chichilla it's a time she anticipates each year.
"He is a nice guy," said the soft-spoken Chichilla. "It's cool and nice to be friends with him."
And for Keisel, it's something he cherishes as well. Keisel serves as the honorary chairman for the Cystic Fibrosis 65 Roses Sports Auction, and it touches his heart when he meets some of the CF Ambassadors, young kids like Chichilla and two-year old Anthony Sarkis.
"The biggest thing that has grabbed my wife and I was the first event when we met Emma and saw the impact it had on her and her family," said Keisel. "We had the opportunity to meet Anthony too as I did a PSA with him for Cystic Fibrosis. Just seeing the challenges these kids are born with and there is no cure for it, that is what we are fighting for, a cure."
Keisel hosted the charity event at McFadden's on the North Side, mingling with guests, signing autographs but most importantly, sharing his heart with the ones who are touched by the disease that impacts innocent children.
"Being around families that are forced into these trials is heart wrenching," said Keisel. "We have had the opportunity to not just meet these kids with Cystic Fibrosis, but we are very close with Aaron Smith and his family and what they are going through with Elijah. It touches you and makes you want to do as much as you can to find a cure."
Keisel counts his own blessings when he sees what those families go through, as he and his wife Sarah just welcomed their second child into the world, a healthy baby girl. That is why when he comes to the event, when he talks about it, that the kids are always in the forefront.
"It's amazing," said Pat Joseph, the executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of Cystic Fibrosis. "He had such a great grasp of that from the beginning. He seems to have an eye for the innocence and sees a lot of the children are victims of a disease they have no responsibility for. He looks out for that. For that big tough guy on the field, he is a softie off the field. His heart is so big. I think it speaks to the strength of Brett that he keeps his focus where it needs to be, right with the kids." Keisel brought along some of his Steelers teammates, including Ryan Clark, James Farrior, Larry Foote, Casey Hampton, Tuff Harris, Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Max Starks, Hines Ward, and Greg Warren, who also signed autographs for the guests in an effort to raise funds for finding a cure.
"This is one of our most visible awareness raising partnerships," said Joseph. "It's a coming together of great friends that are helping to make a different in the lives of those who have Cystic Fibrosis. It's friends on the field and off the field. With Brett's leadership, it's taken on a face of it's own. That's what our young families and patients need, someone to help us raise the awareness and dollars."