When Boomer Esiason’s son Gunnar was 2 years old, he was diagnosed with a disease that changed the quarterback’s outlook on life. Gunnar Esiason was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a disease where the body produces thick, sticky mucus that can clog the lungs. While there is still no known cure, cystic fibrosis has been able to better managed over the years. A big part of that reason can be attributed to Boomer Esiason, who has dedicated the last 25-plus years of his life to helping find a cure.
The early years for Boomer and Gunnar Esiason
Boomer Esiason was an MVP quarterback in the NFL. He had just spent nine successful years with the Cincinnati Bengals before getting the news of his son’s condition when he was in his first season with the New York Jets. From Day 1, however, the southpaw QB vowed to make a difference. “I am going to be the biggest enemy that this disease has ever had,” he said back in 1993. “We’re going to beat this thing. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we’re going to beat it.”
Esiason took advantage of his platform and founded the Boomer Esiason Foundation soon after Gunnar’s diagnosis. The foundation helps raise money, raise awareness, and helps support those diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.
Gunnar and his father appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in October of 1993 with the quarterback holding his son on his shoulders with Gunnar dressed ina Jets jersey. When he was diagnosed, the life expectancy wasn’t what it is now. “When I was born, life expectancy was 17 or 18. Now it’s the late 30s and it’s going up and up,” he said back in 2013.
Living a ‘normal’ life
In 2014, Gunnar Esiason was coaching a high school football team. Players, coaches, or parents couldn’t tell he was living with cystic fibrosis. “I forget about everything he’s going through because he just seems so normal,” said Corey Goldglit, the starting quarterback back then at Friends Academy in New York. “Then he’ll have this big cough, or he’ll have to spit out phlegm, and it’s like, ‘Oh, right.’ ”
The summer of 2013 was a tough one for Gunnar, who had just graduated from Boston College. His immune system was weak and he was in and out of hospitals taking numerous IVs. His doctors were trying to determine why he couldn’t remain hydrated or maintain his weight. He was treated for two months.
Gunnar was also coaching hockey at Friends. He was doing what a normal person does. His father knew there would be tough days ahead for someone who appeared so normal. “We want Gunnar to find a beautiful girl, to get married, have his own family,” Boomer said in 2014. “The reality is that there are going to be significant fights ahead.”
Gunnar gets engaged
In February of 2020, Gunnar Esiason, 28, proposed to his girlfriend Darcy Cunningham while the two were ice skating. Back in 1993, Gunnar reaching 28 might have been far-fetched. The engagement announcement was especially emotional for Boomer Esiason.
“I have never been so emotional after getting news like this because this is ultimately what we have been fighting for for the last 25 years,” Boomer said on WFAN in New York in February. He also called Darcy Cunningham “an amazing, amazing human being.”
Cunningham has become Gunnar’s caregiver. “People with cystic fibrosis lose some independence,” said Gunnar Esiason. “We all need first-line care providers or caregivers. Darcy has taken on that role during our move to Hanover. Throughout our relationship, I trained her to be my primary caregiver (so that) if she has to administer aid or help to me during my daily treatment regimen … for her it has been a growing experience, but at the end of the day, it has really strengthened our relationship more than anything.”
Boomer and Gunnar have defied the odds. A wedding that seemed so far-fetched back when Boomer was throwing touchdown passes for the New York Jets has turned into a reality.