As I groggily looked over at my phone on the nightstand, I saw the faint glow of a call coming in. Being thousands of miles away from home, playing junior hockey in British Columbia, it was always a warm and welcomed sight to see “call from home” on my phone. Answering in excitement, I was not ready for the response that I would receive. On the other end of the phone, my usually energetic joy-filled mother, had a soft and sad tone. As my heart sank, I knew that something was wrong. She explained that my father was in the hospital for a suspected bad case of pneumonia.
Although scary, I thought, “Just pneumonia right? My dad is the strongest guy I know. That should be a walk in the park for him.”
As the days progressed and his condition worsened, the doctors felt that there may have been something more going on. Unfortunately, they were correct. Within the following days, my father was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder called Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome. This rare condition attacks the body’s organs was causing his lungs to bleed and had paralyzed his diaphragm on the left side. As doctors scrambled to solve the problem, his health continued to deteriorate. He spent 85 days in the hospital the following year, in and out of the ICU, being treated for life threatening bleeding in his lungs. Being the fighter that he is, he was able to fight through the bleeding in his lungs and cling on to life. He spent the next 2 and a half years on 24/7 oxygen supply and a vast assortment of medications and treatments, including chemotherapy. He kept fighting once he got home, but was not able to move around much because of his inability to obtain oxygen sufficiently. He was also put on chemotherapy for 6 months to attempt to slow down the progression of the disease. This caused him to gain about 80 pounds, which only further complicated the situation.
Needless to say, this was a very stressful situation for my family for the next couple of years. After hundreds of different opinions from just about every respected doctor in the country, we found our “angels”, who just happened to be under our nose the whole time. Our good family friends Dennis and Kathi Kotelko, run a well known and respected holistic clinic that stresses the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle. They prescribed a strict non-inflammatory diet and drastically increased his vitamin intake. After a few months of a difficult diet plan and fitness regimen, we began to see improvements in my father’s health. He lost weight, and was actually starting to be able to live without his oxygen support.
Just when things started to look up, my father suffered a stroke in February of 2017.
This caused problems with his memory and cognitive functioning, as well as paralyzing the right side of his body. Again, my family was crushed. Things were looking so positive, just to be blindsided by another unforeseen and unfortunate event. Although most people would crumble after another life changing event, my dad continued to fight every day and beat the odds, just like he’s always done. He kept fighting, but suffered a second stroke 5 months later. Of course, being the strong father and husband that he is, he worked hard to recover once again and beat the odds.
Fast-forward to today, and my father has successfully achieved remission. Although he will never be cured, he strives to remain in remission and to not focus on the negative aspects of his disease.
He has overcome so much in the past 5 years and is a great example of what it means to fight through adversity. One of the best things about his victory against this disease is that we are all finally able to play hockey together again. Looking back at the situation 5 years ago, I always kicked myself for not playing hockey with my dad enough, and always told myself I would do anything to skate with him once again.
In April of this year, my prayers were answered and I was able to once again join my dad on the ice.
I think every kid grows up looking at his/her dad like a super hero, who can overcome anything. After the past 5 years, I think my father actually is. Not only was he able to beat an unbeatable disease, he was able to continue to support his family, be a great husband and father, and continue to be an inspiration to all of those around him. As a family, we feel truly blessed to have had true friends and the hockey community for support in our time of need. Special thank you to Dennis and Kathi Kotelko, who truly saved my father’s life. We will be forever grateful for their patience and expertise in this situation and feel that they are our real life “angels”. Also, a big thank you to Dawg Nation for all that you do. I am looking forward to seeing my father and the other survivors in the survivor game!
Love you dad! I am so proud of you and am thankful you have fought so hard for your health for all of us!
-Landon Smith, to his father Thompson
Landon recently completed his college hockey career at Quinnipiac University. He helped lead his team to the championship game in the 2016 Frozen Four by scoring the game winning goal against Boston College in the semifinals.