Drawing strength from illness

March 09, 1994|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Writer

The ordeal for 10-year-old Brandon Warren started last year with a simple blood test for dental surgery.

There was a problem.

"They thought at first that it might be a vitamin deficiency," said his father, defensive lineman Frank Warren of the New Orleans Saints.

It turned out the diagnosis was worse. Much worse. Brandon Warren had leukemia.

He had a serious strain of the illness that usually afflicts adults, and he was in intensive care twice as he fought for his life.

At one point, the leukemia cells formed tumors behind his eyes. Emergency radiation was called for.

"It was a minute-by-minute type situation," said Frank Warren, one of the 28 winners -- one from each NFL team -- honored at the 16th Annual Ed Block Courage Awards dinner last night at Martin's West.

"It's indescribable," Frank Warren said of his son's battle. "At first, you're very angry, very frustrated. The pain he was in was terrible, and there wasn't anything I could do for him."

The good news is that Brandon Warren is winning his battle. The illness is in remission.

He still has to take medicine seven times a day, but his hair has grown back and he again is an active youngster, able to attend school.

"He's not out of the woods yet," Warren said. "If it stays in remission for five years, they'll say he's cured. Five years is a long time, but they've come a long way on leukemia research and I hope they'll have a cure in five years."

Warren kept playing football last year, when he wasn't at his son's bedside.

"I had to go and play," he said. "It drove me crazy to sit there and watch him suffer. It was an outlet for me to play football and vent my frustration."

It wasn't the same, though. The winning and losing didn't mean much to him.

"It puts a lot of things in perspective," he said. "Our season was going real well and we won our first five games, but it didn't really matter to me whether we were winning or losing. It was just a game. There are more important things in life. When we started going through our losing streak [the Saints finished 8-8 after starting 5-0], it didn't matter. It was just a game."

L The fact he's 34 and a 12-year veteran helped him persevere.

"If I'd been a younger player, it would have been hard for me to keep on going. An older player has had ups and downs in life," said Warren, who sat out the 1990 season with a drug suspension but made it all the way back.

"It didn't make any sense for me not to play. I needed a job, and it's got good [health] insurance."

The Saints coaches and players were impressed with Warren's demeanor during the ordeal. His teammates wore baseball caps with Brendan Warren's initials around the training facility.

"You talk about a guy who's been through a lot," said his defensive line coach, John Pease. "The neat thing is that with all the problems he's had, he's learned to handle it. At one point, they thought they lost Brandon and they got him back. If he had a regular person's genes, he might not have made it. Frank's physical strength probably carried him through."

Warren is noted for being one of the nice guys in the Saints' locker room.

"He's really a good human being," Pease said. "You just love to be around him. My wife found a stray Siamese cat, and she suggested we give it to Frank because he'd take care of it."

Pease also thinks playing helped Warren deal with the situation.

"He could funnel his energy into hitting somebody. Cancer's not anenemy you can hit. When football players and coaches have a problem, they want to work harder or lift more weights. There's no enemy he could fight in this," he said.

It wasn't surprising that when the Saints selected their annual Ed Block Courage Award winner, Frank Warren was an easy choice.

The award is named for the former Colts trainer, and money raised by the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation helps sponsor homes for abused children. This year's other NFC winners are: Bill Bates (Dallas), George Thornton (New York Giants), Andre Waters (Philadelphia), Ron Moore (Phoenix), Art Monk (Washington), Keith Van Horne (Chicago), Kevin Glover (Detroit), Johnny Holland (Green Bay), Henry Thomas (Minnesota), Rob Taylor (Tampa Bay), Jumpy Geathers (Atlanta), David Lang (Los Angeles Rams) and Don Griffin (San Francisco).

And from the AFC: John Davis (Buffalo), Steve Emtman (Indianapolis), John Offerdahl (Miami), Bruce Armstrong (New England), Lonnie Young (New York Jets), Bruce Kozerski (Cincinnati), Patrick Rowe (Cleveland), Curtis Duncan (Houston), Gary Jones (Pittsburgh), Simon Fletcher (Denver), Albert Lewis (Kansas City), Winston Moss (Los Angeles Raiders), Derrick Walker (San Diego) and Eugene Robinson (Seattle).

Warren said he appreciated the honor.

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