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Son's rare illness inspires Fisher family

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State's Jimbo Fisher guided his team to a 10-4 record and bowl victory in his first season as a head coach.

The Seminoles are a preseason top-five choice in most polls and are heavy favorites to win the ACC and possibly contend for a BCS national championship this coming season.

Fisher, a longtime offensive coordinator under Nick Saban and Bobby Bowden, has reached the pinnacle of his coaching career.

Off the field, however, Fisher and his family are fighting the battle of their lives. Fisher's 6-year-old son, Ethan, was recently diagnosed with Fanconi anemia, a rare genetic disorder that causes bone marrow failure.

On Friday, Fisher and his wife, Candi, announced they had started The Jimbo and Candi Fisher Kidz 1st Fund to raise awareness and money for research to battle the disease that is affecting their youngest son.

"We're committed to finding a cure," Jimbo Fisher said during an interview with ESPN.com at his family's Tallahassee home on Thursday night. "Anything can be cured and that's our commitment. We're going to find a cure. We're on a quest to find a cure."

Candi Fisher said Ethan became sick with the flu during the Christmas holidays while visiting family in Alabama. She took her son to an urgent care clinic, where blood work showed Ethan had abnormally low platelet counts. Doctors told her the abnormalities could have been the result of a virus but encouraged her to follow up with the family's doctor.

After Ethan's blood work never improved, the Fishers were referred to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla. Doctors there diagnosed Ethan with having Fanconi anemia, which inflicts about one in every 350,000 births.

"We'd never even heard of it when we heard it was a possibility," Candi Fisher said. "We'd talked to some doctor friends who said, 'That's impossible. It's just too rare. We barely even remember talking about it during medical school.' Once we learned he had it, there just wasn't enough information available. If you Googled it, it scared you to death."

Ethan shows no obvious signs of having the disease. He's an active, athletic little boy who greets visitors to the family's home with a smile and bubbling personality. He played baseball this summer on a 7-and-8-year-old team and was the team's third-best hitter. He spends most afternoons playing Wiffle ball in the front yard or swimming in the family's pool.

"He's dealt with it a lot better than we have," Jimbo Fisher said. "The kid is resilient and he's amazing. He's the last kid you'd look at on the playground and think he's sick. His energy level is 1,000 [percent]. He goes and goes and goes and has showed no signs of being sick. He's been wonderful and has dealt with it wonderfully."

Eventually, doctors believe that Ethan's body will stop producing bone marrow and he'll need a transplant. Fanconi anemia also leaves patients more susceptible to other forms of cancer, including leukemia.

The Fishers said doctors are encouraged about Ethan's long-term prognosis because the disease was detected early.

"Right now, there's not any treatment," Candi Fisher said. "It's just kind of a waiting game right now. He'll have to have his blood work redone every three months, and he'll have to do an updated bone marrow biopsy once a year. They'll just keep watching his counts and when he starts showing a decline, then he'll have to advance to treatment."

Shortly after Ethan was diagnosed with Fanconi anemia, Virginia football coach Mike London called Jimbo Fisher. London's daughter, Ticynn (pronounced Tyson), was diagnosed with Fanconi anemia when she was 4. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments but eventually needed a bone marrow transplant. Mike London was a perfect match, and his bone marrow was extracted in 2003. Ticynn's body didn't reject it and she's now healthy and active.

"When [London] called me and told me, it was shocking," Jimbo Fisher said. "It was very reassuring. It does show they're making progress. It was very, very uplifting."

Jimbo Fisher said Ethan's illness helped him put football in perspective. He missed practices this past spring and dates on his speaking tour this summer to remain with his son.

"It did ground me," Fisher said. "We're coming off a great bowl win and won 10 games, and recruiting had gone really well. We were on top of the world. I'll say this: Things happen in this world for a reason.

"It really did ground me back [to Earth]. You're starting to fly, and when success happens sometimes, you start forgetting about the things that matter in life and you take them for granted. It did give me a big taste of reality and what is important."

Like London, the Fishers are planning a campaign to raise awareness about the critical need for donated bone marrow. They plan on holding drives around Florida State football games and other events.

"We feel like we have a voice that maybe other people who have been affected by this disease don't have," Candi Fisher said. "We have an opportunity to do something on a greater scale, to not only help Ethan but to help the other families whose lives have been affected by this disease. [We want] to find a cure for it or better treatments or a better long-term prognosis."

Florida State opens preseason camp next week. Jimbo Fisher knows his son will constantly be on his mind.

"It makes you question a lot of things," Jimbo Fisher said. "We've asked ourselves that a million times: 'Why us? How can it be happening to us?' You question everything in your life. If it wasn't for [Candi] and our family and the friends who came to us and our belief in God, there is no way we'd be where we're at now and how we're dealing with it."

Editor's note: The Fisher's have set up a fund for researching Fanconi anemia at www.kidz1stfund.com. Information on Fanconi anemia is available at fanconi.org.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.