Philadelphia, PA – Austin Peay State University (APSU) football defensive lineman Josephus Smith is a member of the 2020 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Team, announced Monday.
For more than a dozen years, Uplifting Athletes has celebrated leaders in college football that have made a positive and lasting impact on the Rare Disease Community through its Rare Disease Champion initiative.
Smith and his wife Shermiria welcomed the birth of their second daughter, Madison, this May. She was born with Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH), a rare abnormality that happens to 1 in 2500 babies and for which the overall survival rate is 50 percent.
According to the National Institutes of Health, CDH is, “a condition present before birth characterized by abnormal development of the diaphragm.
The diaphragm normally separates the organs in the abdomen from those in the chest. The severity of CDH may range from a thinned area in part of the diaphragm, to its complete absence. CDH may allow the stomach and intestines to move through an opening (hernia) into the chest cavity, crowding the heart and lungs.
This can then lead to underdevelopment of the lungs (pulmonary hypoplasia), which may cause life-threatening complications.”
After many appointments, they also learned that Shermiria had developed severe preeclampsia. In April, Shermiria was diagnosed with preeclampsia at 29 weeks into her pregnancy and the only cure was delivery. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center staff explained the complications that could ensue with a preterm birth.
They also were informed Madison would not be ECMO (heart-lung bypass machine that greatly improves the condition of CDH babies) eligible due to her small size. If she couldn’t breathe on her own, there wasn’t much that could be done to help her. They knew with Madison having CDH and being born so premature at 29 weeks, her chances of survival were greatly reduced.
Through much research and prayer, Josephus and Shermiria decided to take a leap of faith to travel 10 hours away to John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida where Dr. David Kay, who has a 95 percent success rate in caring for babies with CDH, is located. In May, Madison was born; six days later, she was in surgery. She’s was hospitalized into August but has, in the face of long odds, made significant progress.
Joining Smith on the 2020 Uplifting Rare Disease Champion Team are Syracuse punter Nolan Cooney, Syracuse quarterback Rex Culpepper, Stanford head coach David Shaw and Northwestern defensive lineman Joe Spivak.
“We have been moved by the way each member of the 2020 Rare Disease Champion Team has used their platform to inspire, serve and support the Rare Disease Community,” Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Rob Long said. “Our tradition of honoring the team at in-person events is not plausible during these times, but we feel it is our duty and honor to recognize, celebrate and share their inspiring accomplishments and stories.”
Each member of the 2020 Rare Disease Champion Team will be honored and celebrated during the first two weeks of Rare Disease Awareness Month in February 2021.
The Rare Disease Champion Team is an Uplifting Athletes awareness initiative that is part of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA). Nominees for the award were solicited from any NCAA FBS, FCS, Division II or Division III institution or college football program nationwide.
Josephus joins former Austin Peay assistant coach Joshua Eargle as Rare Disease Champion honorees. Eargle, who was recognized by Uplifting Athletes in 2018, and his wife Kristen have three children, and their middle child, Landrey, was diagnosed with a rare mutation of the CSNK2B gene. She battles myoclonic epilepsy, intellectual disability, a congenital heart defect, and immunodeficiency.