When first approached Wednesday, Brandon Mebane didn’t want to discuss the specifics as to why he has been away from the Chargers.
A short time later, the veteran defensive tackle stood in front of his locker offering every detail he could think of concerning the battle being fought by his newborn daughter.
The desire to bring awareness to a rare condition called Trisomy 13 was why Mebane changed his mind, interested in advancing a quiet cause and aiding parents who could be experiencing what he has been going through since summer.
“It’s been a long, hard, pretty tough year for me,” he said. “I’ve been praying way more, just keeping my faith.”
Mebane and his wife, Amena, welcomed their third child, Makenna, on Nov. 12, more than a month before the baby was due.
She was born with T-13, a chromosomal disorder that has affected her heart. Tests this summer revealed the condition, Mebane explaining that Makenna will require surgery to repair a valve.
Two weeks after she was born, she developed a stomach infection that doctors in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha continue to treat.
Until Makenna is healthier, surgery won’t be possible. Mebane said he and Amena have been told their daughter could remain hospitalized until April.
“This is something that made me aware of talking to God more, praying way more,” Mebane said. “Praying not just at night with my kids, but before we drop them off at school.”
He left the team last month for Omaha, where he joined his wife and children Mahailey and Makai. Mebane missed two games but is expected to be back in the starting lineup Sunday against Cincinnati.
Throughout the season, he has been traveling to Omaha after games and typically returning to Southern California on Tuesday nights.
“She’s making improvement every day,” Mebane said of Makenna. “She’s looking a whole lot better. It’s a process.”
Coach Anthony Lynn called Mebane’s presence at practice “the highlight of my day.” Mebane was limited in his participation as the Chargers ease him back onto the field.
In his 12th NFL season, Mebane, 33, signed with the Chargers as a free agent in March of 2016. He won awards for his courage and inspiration during his first two years with the team.
Before this season, Mebane’s teammates voted him to be one of their captains.
“They’ve missed him,” Lynn said. “His leadership is very important, not just his ability on the football field, but he’s just a good man.”
Mebane spent the first nine years of his career with Seattle, winning a Super Bowl in February of 2014.
He said he has been playing this season in dedication to his family, explaining that they have “given me something to push and fight for.”
After the Chargers game against the Bengals at StubHub Center, Mebane will return to Omaha for two days.
“It’s been tough, pretty much the whole season for me,” he said. “I haven’t had my family here. This is the first time I’ve experienced something like this … I believed in the power of prayer. I believe in it even more now. This is definitely real.”
Running back Melvin Gordon (knee) did not practice Wednesday, suggesting it’s unlikely he’ll play Sunday, although the Chargers won’t make any official decision until later in the week.
Gordon was seen running in a straight line on his own while teammates participated in group drills during the portion of practice open to the media.
Lynn was clear on what he’d have to see from Gordon before being certain he was ready to return.
“With a running back, it’s got to be his change of direction,” Lynn said. “He can protect himself if he can change direction.”
With Gordon coming back from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, the Chargers figure to be particularly cautious when it comes to testing his ability to change direction.
If Gordon is unable to play against Cincinnati, Austin Ekeler will start with rookie Justin Jackson backing him up. Lynn said Detrez Newsome, another rookie, could play as well.
Michael Badgley’s 29-yard field goal with no time remaining Sunday to beat Pittsburgh was even more meaningful than it first appeared for the rookie.
The game marked the third time Badgley has played at Heinz Field, the previous two appearances coming when he was in college at Miami.
As a sophomore, Badgley kicked five field goals there to help the Hurricanes defeat Pitt 29-24.
Two years later, Miami was 10-0 and arrived at Heinz in late November as the No. 2-ranked team in the country. The Hurricanes lost 24-14.