VandyMania: George, talk about the spring of 2004, when you first started feeling sick. You were having a very impressive spring, then suddenly...
Vanderbilt wide receiver George Smith: It all started as a little tingly-ness in my hands... kind of like when your feet fall asleep. I started to notice that I couldn't even feel the ball when I went up to catch it. So I went to the doctors and had them give me an MRI to check things out. Everything came back negative. That was about midway through spring camp.
The next day I went home (to Florida) for spring break. Between that day and the last day of camp, the numbness went down to my legs and the complete left side of my body, and I realized that something was seriously wrong.
VM: So you went to the hospital?
George: We went home on a Friday, and I was admitted on Saturday. I was never in the hospital here, just in Florida.
VM: What exactly was the diagnosis... inflammation of the spinal cord?
George: Yeah. It's called transverse myelitis.
VM: How long does it normally take folks to get over that?
George: Actually I have a counselor here... she had it, and it took her about three to four months before she was walking again. It varies. I know 33 percent die from it, 33 percent are permanently crippled by it, and 33 percent recover completely from it.
VM: Your parents had to be scared to death by that!
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George: Oh yeah... I think I was more scared for them than for myself when I was lying in the bed.
VM: You're obviously walking now, and in great shape. But how long did it take you before you were back up?
George: It probably took a good week and a half to two weeks just to teach myself to walk again, get my strength and balance back, and everything like that. I lost a lot of weight. By the fall I had almost gained all of the weight back. They cleared me to do 7-on-7 drills, but there was still a little swelling in the spine, so they said no contact at first.
VM: You were redshirted your true freshman year, and you sat out last year, so you've got to be ready to actually see some action.
George: I'm ready to go. I know the plays. I'm confident I can get it done.
VM: What do you think this whole ordeal has taught you?
George: Not to take life for granted. I mean, this game... I love the game. I'm pretty sure all my teammates love the game, but it can be taken away from you just like that. It definitely makes me appreciate it a lot more. Every single day is a new day.
The good news about Smith? He was awarded a medical hardship for the 2004 season and now, despite having been in school for two years, still has four years of eligibility left to play at Vanderbilt. --Brent Wiseman
Photos by Brent Wiseman, Copyright 2005 for VandyMania.com.