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The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

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Project 11: Alex Smith’s story of gratitude and perseverance


On May 1, ESPN’s series, E:60 premiered Project 11, which tells the story of Alex Smith, an NFL Quarterback for the Washington Redskins who suffered a gruesome leg injury in Week 11 of the 2018 season. 

Smith was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers as the overall first draft pick in the 2005 NFL draft. Smith played for the 49ers for six seasons before being traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. At Kansas City, Smith led the Chiefs to the playoffs four out of the five seasons he was there. After his fifth season with the Chiefs, he was traded to the Washington Redskins in 2018. 

On Nov. 18, 2018, Smith suffered a compound fracture in his right leg during a game against the Houston Texans. Smith entered surgery that day to fix his fracture but later suffered an infection that would put his leg and his life in jeopardy. Smith suffered the same injury that quarterback Joe Theismann suffered on the same day, playing the same position for the same team back in 1985.

Smith’s story is one of strength and perspective. Viewers of Project 11 saw Smith’s fight and how his face lit up when he began to throw a football again. But, Alex’s story is not the only story of strength.

There is another story of strength: Alex’s wife, Elizabeth. Elizabeth was with Alex every step of the way and was able to make informed decisions during the week when Alex was incoherent. Elizabeth kept their children unfazed at the danger that their father was in. She kept calm and was able to carry the burden with her husband and was cheering for him every step of the way. 

In the days following Smith’s surgery, he developed a high fever and his blood pressure began to drop. Elizabeth saw that something was very wrong, as she said, “Alex is not Alex.” 

As doctors worked quickly to find the root of the problem, they found an infection in his blood that was causing him to be septic. The doctors rushed him into emergency surgery and reopened his wound to find Necrotizing Fasciitis, flesh-eating bacteria. Doctors began removing tissue, muscles, and skin wherever the infection was and had to contemplate amputating his leg. They were in life-saving mode and leg saving mode but in that order.

Elizabeth looked to Dr. Robin West, Redskins’ head team physician, for answers. “‘Please, can you break this down for me, my husband is lying here and he is dying and it’s coming from his leg and I just need to know why we can’t cut it off.’ I said, ‘Is he going to be okay? I need to know that I am able to leave this place with him, I cannot go home to my kids without him with me.’” 

After eight debridements, doctors saved Smith’s leg by using his left long quad muscle as the replacement in his right leg. Elizabeth recalls that one night her husband looked over at her and said, “It’s gonna be okay”, to which she responded, “I know.” Then he said, “Do you know how many people would love to trade positions with me? Do you know the things and the blessings we have? And we can’t take it for granted, not even for a second.”

Smith’s injury went from a sports injury to what would be considered a military blast injury. He got special clearance to rehab at an army facility, the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio, Texas. 

After 17 surgeries, Smith is still rehabbing with hopes of returning to play quarterback in the NFL. In Project 11, he said that his football career might not be over after all. “Football may not be out of the question, you know, can I go play quarterback again.”

Project 11 is a story of perseverance, love, gratitude, and perspective. Alex Smith’s story comes in perfect timing as everyone during this pandemic can use the qualities that Smith shows us in his journey. The mental fortitude Smith possesses is admirable. Healing from any injury, let alone an injury of this magnitude is enough to knock anyone off-balance, but Smith remains focused and committed to achieving his goal. There is no doubt that Project 11 will leave you inspired and with a better perspective and will have everyone who watches rooting for Alex Smith’s comeback, I know I will. 

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Project 11: Alex Smith’s story of gratitude and perseverance