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Top prospect Curry invites 12-year-old leukemia survivor to draft festivities

When Aaron Curry realized he'd be one of nine players invited to the 2009 NFL Draft, he knew he'd put on an expensive suit and surround himself with his family on one of the biggest days of his life.

The Wake Forest linebacker wanted to do something unique, too.

Curry wound up at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., on Monday. In a prearranged meeting set up by his agent and hospital officials, Curry told wide-eyed, 12-year-old Bryson Merriweather that he wanted a tour of the place. The boy had spent the better part of two years there undergoing five rounds of chemotherapy for leukemia, which is now in remission.

"We were acting like he was just taking me on a regular tour around the hospital," Curry said. "Toward the end, we ended up outside tossing each other a football, and I just started talking about the draft.

"He said he had seen it, and I was telling him that I had been invited and if he would join me in this experience. So I said, 'So come to New York with me and get drafted into the NFL.'"

So joining Curry's mother, fiancee and siblings at his draft table on April 25 will be Bryson, the Madison, Ala., boy who is determined to play football again -- and get more people to be bone marrow donors.

"I was showing him around and then he asked me," Bryson said of Curry's surprise offer. "And I've never been to New York before."

While Curry has been fortunate not to have a friend or family member affected by cancer, he was drawn to Bryson's story when he was directed to the St. Jude hospital through his agent, Andy Ross.

Bryson, who played tight end and defensive end for his youth team, first complained that his chest hurt after football practice in October 2007. Later, he said he couldn't catch his breath, and it was thought he had asthma.

But one month after that, his family was hit with horrible news: Bryson had acute myeloid leukemia and would need to immediately go by ambulance four hours away to St. Jude, a top pediatric cancer treatment hospital.

Bryson began a grueling schedule of chemotherapy while his family searched in vain for a matching donor if he required a bone marrow transplant.

"It was disheartening to know that we didn't have a match," said his father, Lorace "Ace" Merriweather.

As Bryson got stronger, he helped lead bone marrow drives and fundraisers for St. Jude hospital in his hometown. His parents also decided to have another child.

Six months after Bryson went into remission, his mother, Becky, gave birth to Bryan in December. It was recently determined he's a genetic match with his older brother.

"If the cancer does come back, we now have a donor match in our own family," Bryson's father said. "That's been another amazing journey that we've gone through."

Now that journey will take Bryson and his dad to New York. Curry will meet them on Thursday and tour the city. They'll attend some events together Friday, and Bryson will be there Saturday when Curry could be the No. 1 overall pick by the Detroit Lions.

"After meeting Bryson, I just think it was the perfect route to go," Curry said. "Bryson has already done some things in the community and he's only 12."

Statistics show that Bryson has a 30 to 40 percent chance of relapse, and a cell mutation he has puts him in an even higher risk group. But the lanky Bryson is strong enough now to play sports again. He's running track this spring and hopes to resume football this fall.

He'll also have stories to tell his friends after experiencing the draft first-hand with a potential future NFL star.

"It's just been a blessing to go through this whole experience. It renewed our faith," Ace Merriweather said. "It also shows Bryson's courage and will to fight through this. He didn't ask for it, but he's taken on the challenge. I know he's going to have a long life ahead of him.

"Maybe one day we'll be at the draft inviting somebody."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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