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Dwight Howard brings back Deontae’s smile

April 20, 2012

Deontae has earned a special nickname here in the hospital. We call him “Dimples” because when he smiles, everyone notices. He is a curious, wide-eyed 10-year-old with a sweet, mischievous grin that seems to be contagious to all of those around him. But his smile hasn’t come easily.

Deontae has faced unimaginable obstacles that neither he nor his family ever expected. On the afternoon of February 8th, Deontae was struck by a car as he was attempting to cross Orange Blossom Trail on his bicycle.

He sustained life-threatening injuries and spent several weeks in a coma in the pediatric intensive care unit. As he awoke from the coma, the once carefree little boy who dreamed of playing professional basketball had to face a difficult reality. He had suffered a devastating spinal cord injury, and he is now paralyzed below his neck.

While trying to understand all that has happened to him and how his life has changed, Deontae has at times been overwhelmed with sadness at all that he has lost. He has made remarkable progress in his recovery, yet he has a long, challenging road ahead. Over the last few weeks, as his doctors and nurses began to prepare him to transition from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility, they worked hard to lift his spirits.

While the medical staff within our hospital knows that they are here to provide for the physical needs and ailments of these children, sometimes medicine is more than that. Sometimes the medicine that children need are the intangible things that can’t be given in a pill: love, comfort, support and hope.

One of Deontae’s doctors, Dr. Larry Spack, discovered one thing that always brings a smile to Deontae’s face: basketball. Dr. Spack noticed an autographed poster of the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard hanging in his hospital room. As he realized exactly how much Deontae loves basketball and idolizes Dwight Howard, Dr. Spack thought that meeting his idol may just be the thing that could lift his spirits.

So, Dr. Spack began a quest to help Deontae meet Dwight.

“I just felt so bad for him, what he’d gone through and the struggles coming up in his life. I wanted to do this for him so that it could inspire and motivate him as he goes forward and starts the hard work of rehabilitation.”

After speaking with the Orlando Magic organization, Dr. Spack was given disappointing news: there was no way that Deontae would be able to meet Dwight Howard. But he promised, “I’m going to be incredibly persistent. I’m probably not going to take no for an answer.”

And as it turns out, his persistence paid off. Last week, Deontae was invited to attend his very first Orlando Magic game. Although Deontae requires intensive medical care and is dependent on a ventilator for breathing, Dr. Spack along with other medical staff accompanied him to the game. From his mobile hospital bed, he met Patrick Ewing, Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis, Daniel Orton and Justin Harper.

But the highlight of his night was meeting Dwight Howard. As Howard took time out of his pre-game warmup to talk with him for several minutes, the boy who often peppers with probing questions had only one: “How did you get so tall?”

Deontae listened intently as Howard explained that when he was younger, he was the smallest kid in his neighborhood. But, night after night he prayed that he would grow tall so he could one day become a basketball player. And as Deontae looked up at him from his bed with wide-eyed amazement, Dwight assured him of the power of prayer.

“I was just telling him to pray and keep believing that he can overcome this, and I hope that he can,” Howard said.

No one knows exactly what Deontae’s future will hold. There will surely be trials and challenges in the next chapter of his journey. But, he has hope. Hope and a smile.

Do you have words of encouragement that you’d like to share with Deontae? Take a moment to leave a message for him.