Robert Mackey

Sickle cell anemia is a genetic blood disorder, where blood flow in the blood vessels of the limbs and organs are blocked, causing serious infection, organ damage and pain.

Former NFL player Robert Mackey has seen the ailment firsthand, which is why he started the Lydia W. Smith Foundation, (named after Mackey’s mother) he tells rolling out.

“This is very important to me because it’s close to home,” Mackey says. “My mother has the disease, she’s had it for 17 years, my aunt has the disease, and she’s had it for 32 years. I’ve seen the struggles they’ve had with the disease and the things that they’ve done to survive — for as long as they have — with the disease. So I know a lot of people out here don’t have the same knowledge and education that they have, so my job is to make sure that I do my part to bring awareness and financial relief to some of the patients.”

To that end, Mackey kicked off a three-day event that launched with a private reception atop the Conrad hotel in Chicago, to raise funds for the foundation. “I know a lot of them don’t have insurance and can’t afford insurance, so the foundation is trying to raise money to provide insurance over a 12-month period for those afflicted with the disease,” Mackey says. “A lot of people won’t go to the doctor; they’ll try to deal with the pain instead of going to the doctor. They don’t have the insurance to pay for it, or to care for it. So if I can give somebody 12 months [of treatment], it could get them over the hump.”

Rolling out was a media partner for the Lydia W. Smith Foundation’s charity event.