A few weeks ago, I wrote about the frightening childhood illness that helped shape Chiefs running back Charcandrick West into one of the most exuberant and appreciative people you will ever meet.
That led to some email correspondence with the Shriners Hospital for Children — Shreveport, where Thomas Pressly diagnosed West with systemic juvenile arthritis and rescued him at 14 years old from hopeless weeks of the unknown while being virtually unable to move without suffering acute pain.
The grateful West has made it a point to give back and lend his support to the Arthritis Foundation in numerous ways, including last summer taking part in a video (“Body of Steel”) with 10-year-old Kansas Citian Jillian Reid to help raise awareness and funds.
He also is host to camps for kids on behalf of the Shreveport hospital, where he is seeking to create annual events.
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“I love football to death, I love it, but that’s not the biggest thing to me about being in the NFL,” he said. “Just doing stuff to show kids they still can be something, that’s what excites me.
“I don’t care if it’s a kid in China: If I have to make a trip to China to give a kid some motivation, I’ll do it. I’ll be there.”
All of which is why Pressly recently wrote a letter to Chiefs owner Clark Hunt advocating for West as the Chiefs’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award honoring volunteer and charity work.
“He is doing tremendous work for children with arthritis who desperately need a national spokesman for their cause,” Pressly wrote in an email to The Star. “West would be a fabulous choice for the NFL Man of the Year.”
In a portion of the letter Pressly shared with The Star, he made the compelling case.
West’s background, “both as an athlete and person who has overcome obstacles, has given him the occasion to be a friend and advocate of others, particularly children, who live with arthritis and other rheumatic disease. His heart has led him to sharing his story and giving back in various ways.
“Over the past several years, (West) has given back through talking with children facing challenges about the importance of a positive attitude and working hard at Shriner’s Hospital in Shreveport; Scottish-Rite Hospital in Dallas; and the Jambalaya Jubilee, an annual three-day camp for children with arthritis and their families.
“The humbleness, genuine care and heartfelt empathy that only someone who has experienced and overcome a painful, crippling disease, is apparent during his visits with families and children going through the challenges of arthritis during these visits. (West) has also inspired over 55,000 people through his YouTube music video produced by the Arthritis Foundation entitled ‘Body of Steel.’ ”
He added, “West is an inspiration for all who have overcome challenges in life. His willingness to give back through various organizations, including Shriners Hospitals for Children, while sharing his story as a medical miracle is inspiring. His desire to lead as an advocate for children through telling his story of overcoming challenges, while continuing to work hard as an NFL athlete epitomizes the traits that NFL Man of the Year represents each year.”
You can read the letter in its entirety here:
In a subsequent email, Pressly noted that more hope and inspiration in the field had been driven locally:
The late Jim Cassidy, who was the director of pediatric rheumatology at Missouri and wrote the first textbook on the topic, was a professor and mentor of his.
And he called Carol Lindsley, a pediatric rheumatologist at the University of Kansas Medical Center, “brilliant & very approachable & wants to help all the kids she can.”