Greenville native turns adversity to motivation

Published 2:38 pm Tuesday, January 21, 2014

At the age of 23, Greenville native and Alabama State University graduate student Joe Smith has seen his share of adversity.

But instead of succumbing to it, Smith chose to use the adversity as fuel for his goals, thereby earning him recognition as Alabama’s 2013-2014 recipient of the Alabama Kidney Foundation Scholarship.

Smith was first diagnosed with kidney disease when he was 17 years old, requiring weekly trips to Birmingham for treatment over a period of five months.

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During this time, Smith traded Greenville High School for home school and a number of dialysis treatments.

“I was in high school, trying to graduate, and I started having kidney problems and I was forced to actually leave school for a while, due to the fact that I had to do dialysis three times at week at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham,” Smith said.

“It was hard, but it was something I just had to deal with.”

Things began to look up on Feb. 4, 2008, when a donor became available for a kidney transplant, which allowed him to return to high school and graduate.

But complications would arise four years later at the end of Smith’s search for a bachelor’s degree at Alabama State University.

“My last semester of college was December 2012, and I started having complications with the transplanted kidney, and it finally rejected,” Smith said.

Smith’s eventual return to dialysis wasn’t enough to deter him from his career path, as he still managed to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in political science that same month.

However, on the very day of Smith’s graduation, adversity struck again.

“I was headed to a dinner at my friend’s apartment at Arbor Station in Montgomery, and as we were getting out of the car to go up to the apartment, I went upstairs to unlock the door so that we could go in,” Smith said.

“As I put the key into the door, the breezeway of the apartment complex collapsed.  We fell from the second floor and I broke both legs, one of which they were unable to save.”

Six others were affected by the incident, and the cause of the collapse remains unclear to this day.

Despite losing his leg in the collapse, Smith is now walking and driving again through the use of prosthetics, and he continues outpatient physical therapy twice a week while attending graduate courses at Alabama State University.

According to Smith, faith and his mother’s support were the two most pivotal influences.

Despite a number of hurdles set before him, Smith said that he hopes his ordeals can serve to inspire a number of other high school and college-age students, who often suffer from no shortage of distractions and problems of their own.

His advice to those students, however, is simple.

“Never give up on your dreams,” Smith said.

“Keep the faith and keep God first.”

Smith plans to complete his master’s degree in history and move on to work toward his doctorate, as well as his goal of teaching history at Alabama State with a focus on slavery and civil rights.