NFL’s Tevin Coleman Opens Up About Daughter’s Sickle Cell …

Tevin and Akilah Coleman are determined to make a difference.

The NFL star and his wife both knew they carried the sickle cell gene but didn’t realize how it would affect them as they started their family.

Speaking with PEOPLE to discuss auctioning off his cleats as part of the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats, the veteran running back and his wife shared how their journey into sickle cell advocacy began after their daughter Nazaneen was diagnosed.

Tevin and Akilah welcomed their twins, Nazaneen and Nezerah, in 2017, and learned about Nazaneen’s unique health needs as a baby.

“I knew something was up,” Akilah tells PEOPLE. “My son, they knew he didn’t have it but pretty much instantly, with my daughter, we had to go back and do a few different tests because they knew there was something going on. It was confirmed about four months.”

The couple quickly learned a lot about how to manage the symptoms Nazaneen faced but were not ready to publish their story right away.

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“I just wanted to protect my daughter when I first found out she was pregnant,” Tevin, who began experiencing sickle cell symptoms himself as a college athlete, tells PEOPLE. “I wanted to protect her – from the public, from everyone. So that’s why I didn’t say anything at first.”

With the twins turning 5 in November, Tevin wants to show his daughter that there is no shame in her illness and what she has to do to take care of herself.

“Now that she’s getting older and learning and understanding that she has sickle cell, I wanted to talk about it and just raise awareness,” he shares.

Adds Akilah, “She’s only 5, so we haven’t gotten to the point where I’ve actually explained to her what her body is going through, but I’ve let her know that it’s very important to always tell my mom — whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re going through, tell my mother. Let’s talk about it. Don’t be afraid to tell me if it hurts, let me help you.”

Akilah is raising the twins in the couple’s home in Atlanta, a challenge as Tevin currently plays for the San Francisco 49ers, but also for Akilah as she tries to keep Nazaneen healthy in the cold weather months.

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“For my daughter, she doesn’t go outside at school if it’s below 50 degrees. I have to keep her really warm, and when she comes home from school, I have to check her fingers and toes,” she explains. “I have to ask her if she has any pain or if something hurts, or if she is having any pain. And she has been in pain actually, she has been having some pain in her legs and feet.”

Adds Tevin, “You definitely want to keep an eye on her all the time, just to make sure she’s not having a crisis. We try to prevent her from going to the hospital by checking her temperature, making sure her body is not too hot but not too cold , make sure she’s hydrated and eating well.”

The mother tries to keep things light by “hiding a lot of what we do for her as personal care.”

“I just say, ‘Okay, we’re going to have a spa day.’ I massage her feet and do a mani-pedi, scrub her feet and do some of that circulation because that’s the only thing I do. what you don’t want to do is put too much fear into it.”

Still, Akilah and Tevin are careful to find a balance so that Nazaneen can support herself as she grows up.

“I want her to be able to identify what she is feeling, but I also want to protect her, in a certain sense, in her childhood,” shares Akilah. “I want you to be able to vocalize what you’re feeling without being afraid.”

Although Nezerah does not know what is happening with his sister either, he is “protective” as her twin.

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