Smith trying to turn the corner on cancer battle

Douglas Fritz • Mar 28, 2020 at 12:00 PM

Danny Smith’s physical therapy skills have saved area teams’ seasons through the years, and it seems like he was always at the forefront of lending a hand to a hurting athlete.

Now he’s counting on skilled doctors — along with an army of family and friends — to help him fight a major battle with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Smith has been at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for the last couple of months. The longtime physical therapist, who is well known for treating athletes throughout Carter County, is currently in isolation because of treatments and the coronavirus pandemic. He received good news this week when his wife was allowed to join him in isolation.

“They shut the hospital down to outside people coming in,” said Danny’s son, Justin, who followed in his dad’s footsteps at Physical Therapy Services in Elizabethton. “But I think they changed their policy because people wanted a family member in the room, understandably so. She is basically in quarantine with him.”

Justin said the family is hopeful Danny will be released from the hospital Tuesday. He would then stay in Houston, close to the hospital, for a week and return each day for testing.

Danny’s faith has been at the forefront of his battle.

“It’s 100 percent faith based,” said Justin. “He has kept a positive outlook.”

It wasn’t the pandemic that initially forced Danny into isolation, Justin said. It was because his white blood cell count was so low after a stem cell transplant. His count should have been between 12 to 14, but it was zero.

“He would have to be careful anyway, but he’s more cautious now,” Justin said. “He was being cautious even when he was in chemo.”

Smith was diagnosed last fall and found he had a rare form of the cancer, and it was aggressive.

“You don’t ever want aggressive cancer, but the good thing is they caught it early and were able to treat it, which is wonderful,” said Justin.

Smith went through four rounds of chemo. Two of them came during Elizabethton’s historic run to the Class 4A state football championship.

“Because the chemo did so well, it made him a candidate for a stem cell transplant,” Justin said. “They do it because the long-term survivability with a stem cell transplant is like 86 percent.”

Danny’s well-known smiling face has been on a lot of people’s minds in the Elizabethton area. Justin said the support Danny has received has been nothing short of incredible.

“It has been absolutely amazing,” Justin said. “Living in a small town has its plusses and minuses, this being one of the plusses. Everybody knows what is going on. We’ve heard from so many people, even from as far away as Hawaii. The prayers, love and support have been amazing.”

Part of the reason for that support is Danny’s excellent work helping others, Justin said.

“Excellent is the result of caring more than others think it’s wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible,” he said.

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