CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The widow of an NFL Hall of Fame football hero is keeping her husband's legacy of service alive by educating others about a common disorder that contributed to his death.
Sara White, widow of the legendary Reggie White, is encouraging men, women, and even children to get screened and treated if they suspect they have sleep apnea. Reggie White suffered from sleep apnea for years and died in his sleep in Cornelius the day after Christmas in 2004.
Tonight the NewsChannel 36 I-Team looks in depth at a truck wreck that killed two men from the Charlotte area. The driver of the truck that caused the wreck had sleep apnea and ran off the road. Our special I-Team report airs at 11 p.m.
Although sleep apnea was not the direct cause of death, it contributed to White's illness. He was just 43-years-old and had ended his football career with the Carolina Panthers only four years before.
Oh my gosh, it was unbelievable, said Sara. Not Reggie, maybe somebody who was overweight but not Reggie.
Reggie was known as the minister of defense . A fearsome defensive end whose size and speed led to record setting numbers of quarterback sacks. He played for the Green Bay Packers when they won Super Bowl XXXI. Perhaps the best known of his sacks were his back-to-back backfield tackling of New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
But he also left a legacy as a Christian minister, openly praying on the field with teammates, opponents and preaching in the pulpit before, during and after his NFL career.
At the public visitation before his funeral in Charlotte, the line outside Jinwright Funeral Home on Statesville Avenue stretched down the block.
Now Sara White is carrying a third legacy - beyond football and the ministry. She supports awareness of sleep apnea.
No, sleep apnea will not kill you but it will affect other conditions in your body, said White. Doctors have linked breathing cessation during sleep to diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Sara White was particularly moved by a column written by a Green Bay Packers fan. This woman's husband got checked the week after Reggie died, Sara said.
Now the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Foundation works to educate the public, and Sara speaks to groups and individuals alike about the disorder.
I noticed that he snored but it was something I accepted, said Sara. I would just elbow him; so many wives know about the elbow!
Sleep apnea is not exclusively a male problem, or a problem among people who are overweight, but most sufferers are both male and overweight.
So snoring or snorting during sleep, or prolonged fatigue, should prompt a visit to the doctor. Why take a chance? Sara asks.
Off the field, Reggie White was a gentle giant, a giant who died sleeping leaving an enormous legacy, including a lesson for better health.