By MARLENE HABIB -- The Canadian Press
TORONTO -- Dave Keon, the retired Toronto Maple Leafs hockey captain, is the latest sports star to lend his name to a medical cause.
Keon, who recently turned 60 and lives in Florida, doesn't often visit his former hockey stomping grounds, but he made the trip to help launch a new anemia
research institute. He said his sister Hannah May Keon became anemic while undergoing drug therapy for lung cancer
"My sister's been fighting cancer
for four years," Keon said in an interview before appearing at a news conference today for the Anemia Institute for Research and Education. "So I have some knowledge or association with what happens to people who go through fighting it."
FILE--Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dave Keon looks over the Stanley Cup with visitors Patrick, 8 and Andrew Flynn, 5 of Detroit during a visit to the Hall of Fame Toronto on Thursday Feb. 24, 2000. Keon is the latest sports celebrity to give support to a medical cause. Keon, who retired in 1982 after playing mostly with the Leafs, travelled from his Florida home to Toronto to help launch a new anemia research institute.
(CP PICTURE ARCHIVE/Tannis Toohey)
Anemia is a blood disorder affecting thousands of Canadians. It can range from mild (needing perhaps just a change in diet and iron supplementation) to severe (possibly requiring drug and other therapy). Severe tiredness, headaches and loss of concentration are classic symptoms.
Anemia is the result of a shortage of red blood cells, possibly due to cancer, AIDS
, kidney disease or loss of blood. These cells contain the protein hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to tissues and cells and provides fuel for the body.
Keon said his sister, who lives in Toronto, became anemic while undergoing chemotherapy. Although she still has cancer "she has a pretty normal life" after receiving a blood transfusion to fight anemia.
Keon said he received a call from the institute's president, Durhane Wong-Rieger, who asked him to help give the Toronto-based organization a profile.
Keon said he's purely a volunteer. Wong-Rieger, on the other hand, said she's one of two paid officials with the institute, which receives most of its funding from companies that make anemia drugs and other products associated with the condition.
FACTS ABOUT ANEMIA
What is it? A deficiency of red blood cells. These cells contain hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to tissues and cells.
Dangers: Anemia can result in organs and tissues not getting enough oxygen to do their work, leaving people feeling very tired, weak, short of breath and dizzy. Over the long term it can affect heart, lung, kidney and brain function.
Causes: Include poor diet; poor food absorption; a shortage of iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid; blood loss such as that during menstruation. Some types of anemia are chronic, caused by cancer and cancer treatment, HIV and AIDS treatment, inherited blood disorders, kidney failure, and surgery.
Diagnosis: Blood test (see your doctor).
Treatment: Mild anemia can be helped with iron, vitamin or folic acid supplementation. Also a change in diet -- such as eating iron-rich food like spinach, liver and eggs. Severe anemia may required a blood transfusion or medication to help rebuild red blood cells.
Source: Anemia Institute for Research and Education.
Now 60, Keon spent 22 seasons with the Leafs and led them to four Stanley Cups. He worked in commercial real estate after moving to Florida and is now retired, but he helps coach a boys' hockey team.
Keon admits he's no medical expert, but through his sister he knows how anemia can zap energy. He said the emphasis too often is on diseases, such as cancer, and not side-effects such as anemia.
"The focus all the time is treating the cancer, and (anemia) is an effect that comes after the body gets beaten up and in a vulnerable state," said Keon. "People should make inquiries (with their doctors) about whether something can be done to help them feel better."
Keon joins other sports stars including former teammate Eddie Shack, who had prostate cancer
, and retired superstar Wayne Gretzky, who was recruited by an arthritis
manufacturer, in raising the profile of a health condition.
Wong-Rieger, a psychologist who has worked for years on blood issues, says she sees nothing wrong with using celebrities to promote causes in the fight for research dollars.
"There's a huge research interest," she said in an interview. "We want to concentrate the institute's efforts in the area of research. We hope to go after foundation and government support as well."
Wong-Rieger, who recently left her position as psychology professor at the University of Windsor, Ont., is known for her work with the Canadian Hemophilia Society, helping people affected by the tainted blood scandal get compensation. She also helped design Canadian Blood Services but left the agency because she disagreed with how it handled issues such as increasing blood safety in hospitals.
Volunteers on the anemia institute's board include experts in hematology, oncology and surgery.
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