It wasn't the annual "casino night" fundraiser they had originally planned for. There was no red carpet, no card games and no in-person event on Oct. 26, but that didn't Devin and Jason McCourty from shining a spotlight on Tackle Sickle Cell, their campaign in partnership with Embrace Kids Foundation.
Instead, the McCourtys pivoted to host a fundraiser on their weekly "Double Coverage" podcast, ultimately doing what they do best -- having honest, heartfelt conversations while also having a few laughs. While Patriots fans are now used to seeing Devin and Jason recording from their homes, Monday night offered a personal look into why the fight against sickle cell disease is so important.
Since they began Tackle Sickle Cell, Devin and Jason have been upfront with the ways the disease has impacted their family. They lost an aunt to the disease. Their uncle lives with the disease, and their father was a carrier of sickle cell trait. They themselves carry the trait.
While Jason said there was a "stigma" and "no one wanted to talk about it," through their work, they've realized exactly how important it is to not be silent about it.
"It's awareness thing. We know that we carry the sickle cell trait, and we know we want to have kids, we want to reproduce, and the partner that we find, those are the questions we have to ask," Jason said. "I think for us as people, when we can help someone with a blood transfusion, when we can help somebody with a monetary donation that can go towards research, to know that you can possibly save a life, it's huge."
Over the years, the McCourtys dedication to Tackle Sickle Cell has raised more than $1.75 million. That number is crucial for any fundraising effort, but especially for a sickle cell disease research and advocacy.
Something both Devin and Jason learned early on in their work is just how underfunded this research and support for families dealing with the disease is.
"In the first few months, we realized how important it was because we saw not many eyes were on sickle cell. The healthcare system didn't focus on sickle cell. There wasn't money in sickle cell to help a disease that predominantly affects minorities, African Americans," Devin said. "It was something that we saw a great niche for us to get involved and try to bring awareness and funds to help out a lot of people. Now, we've been able to help people really in a bunch of different parts of the country."
Despite of the ground gained since they joined the fight, there is still work to be done, especially in light of COVID-19.
If nothing else, this year has been a reminder of what's at stake for sickle cell patients, and just like anything else, Devin and Jason won't stop doing their part until the job is done.
"If you have sickle cell disease, you're on high alert. You're worried about your health. I think the work's not done until there's no work left," Devin said. "I know I speak for Jason too. For us, we want to continue to do this long after we play football to continue to help people out. I think it's obviously a part of who we are. I think for all of us, we have to have that mentality of continuing to do work as long as there is work to be done."