Jaguars inspired by 6-year-old's progress against rare disease

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Brad Meester hopes to be at midfield for Sunday's coin toss.

The Jacksonville Jaguars center wants a close-up view of what's sure to be a memorable moment.

Meester's buddy, 6-year-old Luke Akerstrom, will walk -- maybe even run -- to the middle of the field and serve as an honorary captain against the Cincinnati Bengals. No matter how he gets there, it will be the latest step in a journey that has been far from ordinary.

Luke suffered a 35-minute seizure on Dec. 31, 2010, and was diagnosed with a rare form of encephalitis. He lost important cells that control motor function and didn't move his legs for six months.

He spent four months in the hospital, where Meester, his wife and their four daughters became some of Luke's regular visitors. General manager Gene Smith, head athletic trainer Mike Ryan, communications manager Ryan Robinson, two cheerleaders and the team mascot also stopped by. So did Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow and former President George W. Bush.

With constant therapy and around-the-clock care, Luke slowly got better. His communication skills improved dramatically and he managed to take several steps by himself when he visited the team's training camp in August. He got a rousing ovation, then walked off the field with Maurice Jones-Drew as the star running back held back tears.

Luke is nearly running now, which is more than doctors expected but exactly what Luke envisioned when he told his mother he needed to be able to walk again "because Jaguars don't roll, they run."

Meester expects teammates to be stunned by Luke's progress.

"It's going to be huge for him to be out there," Meester said. "I know he's very excited. He's always excited to come to the game, but to get a chance to be out there for the coin toss, it's going to be huge. It really hasn't been that long ago and he's come a long way. I think they'll be amazed."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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