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His Toughest Foe
ANDREW LAWRENCE
June 30, 2008
Diagnosed with leukemia in February, Kenechi Udeze has been fighting the illness with a defensive end's tenacity
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June 30, 2008

His Toughest Foe

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Diagnosed with leukemia in February, Kenechi Udeze has been fighting the illness with a defensive end's tenacity

WHILE HIS Vikings teammates prepare for the 2008 season, Kenechi Udeze is in a fight for his life. In February the four-year veteran rush end was visiting his in-laws in Kuna, Idaho, with his wife, Terrica, and their infant daughter, Bailey, when he was overcome by persistent migraines and soreness in his neck. Udeze thought he had nothing worse than a sinus infection, but he nonetheless went to a local doctor. The diagnosis was much grimmer: acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a potentially fatal cancer in which immature white blood cells are overproduced in the bone marrow. "I was thinking this doctor in Idaho didn't know what he was talking about," says Udeze, 24. "I had been healthy all my life."

Udeze was flown to Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edna, Minn., and over 24 days doctors worked furiously to decrease his surging white blood cell count. Despite the 50-50 odds he was given of surviving, Udeze was convinced he could beat the disease if he approached the intensive treatment and grueling recovery with the same zeal he had for football. "Once I heard [the diagnosis], I said, 'Let's get rid of it,'" says Udeze, who remained upbeat through a withering regimen of blood rinsings, chemotherapy, spinal taps and experimental drugs. On April 16 doctors declared Udeze in remission and cleared him for a bone marrow transplant; the donor will be his 32-year-old brother, Thomas Barnes.

The procedure is scheduled for early July. Udeze's oncologist, Daniel Weisdorf, says the vast majority of patients like Udeze with 100% marrow match should recover within a year, with no serious lingering medical problems. If all goes smoothly, Udeze, who had five sacks and 47 tackles last season, will start working toward his NFL comeback shortly after the procedure, with a goal of playing in 2009. He's eager to repay the many fans who have stuck by him. Udeze's message to them: "I'm coming back for my standing ovation."

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