RICK CLEVELAND: Mannings team up to help improve Mississippi health

RICK CLEVELAND

RICK CLEVELAND

JACKSON

Imagine, for the moment, that every famous athlete gave back to their community in the manner the Archie Manning family does. Just imagine.

Dr. Jimmy Keeton, who heads up the University of Mississippi Medical Center, has imagined.

“The world would be a better place,” Keeton says. “Mississippi would be a much more healthy place.”

This week, Keeton and UMMC – along with Archie and Olivia Manning – announce the establishment of the Manning Family Fund for a Healthier Mississippi, a campaign aimed at improving the health and the lives of all Mississippians.

The partnership between the Mannings and UMMC will raise money to battle a variety of health-care challenges frequently confronted by the Medical Center, such as heart disease, kidney disease, hypertension and many more. Mississippi desperately needs help in this battle. To date, we clearly are losing the war.

The Manning family is normally associated with football rankings, but it’s another kind of ranking, a much more critical kind, this initiative aims to improve.

Olive and Archie Manning. (AP Photo/John Marshall Mantel)

Olive and Archie Manning. (AP Photo/John Marshall Mantel)

“I’m tired of seeing where Mississippi – my home state, Olivia’s homestate – ranks last in virtually every health category,” Archie Manning says. “We can do better. We have to do better. I know there are thousands of people who feel like we do and will contribute to making Mississippi a better place.”

A sampling of those rankings follow: Mississippi ranks No. 50 in overall health, 49th in cancer deaths, 50th in heart-related deaths, 50th in infant mortality, 49th in diabetes, 50th in high cholesterol, 49th in strokes, 50th in infectious disease occurrence and 49th in obesity.

We used to be the fattest, but Louisiana has passed us.

Said Archie Manning, who has a home in New Orleans, “We fry water down here.”

Manning, from Drew, has kept his primary home in New Orleans since he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints, but, as he puts it, “Mississippi will always be home.” He and Olivia have a condo in Oxford, as does their oldest son, Cooper, and they have a cabin at the Neshoba County Fair. Olivia’s folks are from Philadelphia. Eli Manning has built a home in Oxford.

“We never have been and never will be far from Mississippi,” Archie Manning said. “It is our home, and we know the people across the state and the health problems they face.”

So how can UMMC help a poor family in Drew or Philadelphia?

Keeton has the answer. “Telehealth,” he says.

A seriously ill diabetes patient in Drew can go to a Sunflower County clinic and be treated – via computer hook-up (think Skype) – by a diabetes specialist at UMMC. This program already exists for diabetes and the Delta. The hope is to expand Telehealth to treat more diseases in other parts of the state.

That’s where the Manning Family Fund comes in.

Says Keeton, “The possibilities are endless. This is one area (Telehealth) where Mississippi can be ahead of the curve.”

Dr. Jimmy Keeton. (Courtesy)

Dr. Jimmy Keeton. (Courtesy)

Archie and Olivia Manning literally saw lives changed by Eli Manning’s fund-raising efforts for the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital at UMCC. They were involved in the effort that raised more than $2.9 million to move and improve the children’s clinics, now the Eli Manning Clinics.

“We have seen what it meant not only to the patients but their parents, grandparents and even their doctors,” Archie Manning says. “We want to do more.”

Says Keeton, “There is not a family more respected in sports – or perhaps anywhere – than the Mannings. We think they can mean to us what Danny Thomas meant to St. Jude’s.”

When the Mannings put their name on something, they get involved. Appearances will be made. Commercial spots have been filmed. Press releases have been written. “Ask” letters will be sent.

It is simply coincidence that the Manning Family Fund is announced the same week as Archie Manning receives The Rube Award (Friday night) from the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame for his lifetime contributions to Mississippi sports. But it seems so appropriate.

Targeting donations

While donations to the Manning Family Fund will be used to meet a broad range of health-care needs, donors may specify where their contributions will go.

Donations can be made online, on the fund’s web site at www.manningsforhealth.org, or they may be sent to Sara Merrick, Office of Development, University of Mississippi Medical Center, 2500 N. State St., Jackson, MS 39216.

For more information, call Sara Merrick at 601-984-2302.

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com) is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.