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|| News Item: Posted 2011-02-20

He’s Back: Reminder to Focus on Health First
By Patrick Smith

Photo by Patrick Smith

Photo by Patrick Smith

After photographing BYU guard Jimmer Fredette, Patrick Smith was sidelined for the season
Most of us know of the "Madden Curse" which occurs after shooting a super star athlete for a front page of a publication. As photographers, some of us probably hold a bit of guilt photographing a top notch player only to watch them be sidelined, usually due to an injury, following the cover photo.

Well, I certainly experienced what possibly could be the first case of the "Reverse Madden Curse." After photographing BYU superstar basketball guard Jimmer Fredette, I found myself sidelined for the season.

To make a long story short (which includes walking uphill in the snow in only medical socks - true part of the story), I herniated a disc in my lower back in the last week of August 2010. The sharp, piercing pain, which for the most part was indescribably awful, ran from my lower back, down my left leg and into my foot.

After remorsefully taking a short medical leave from my staff newspaper position, I was treated multiple times with non-surgical procedures and physical therapy. A couple weeks later, after much rest, boring days on the couch, an unreasonable amount of movies, and getting my ass kicked daily by a physical therapist - I felt good, ready and excited to get back to documenting the community. In other words, I was able to return to work with no restrictions.

But less than two weeks later, following the cover photo of the BYU basketball player, who currently leads the nation in scoring, after shooting the huge Utah college football rivalry game, I ended up with: a kicked down door by EMTs, a morphine infused emergency room visit, and 2,000 miles back east on the operating room table having surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The procedure on Monday, Dec. 6, 2010, was an L4-5 laminectomy, discectomy with foraminotomy. In other words, I was sliced open, had some vertebrae chiseled and removed, nerves rearranged and a piece of herniated disc material, which was larger than the size of my hand, ripped from the inside of my back.

An athlete since birth - I've always been on my feet, active, blood always rushing through my veins, eager, fit, healthy, and on the go. So as one can imagine, I was crushed and disappointed - twice - by the same injury. Would I have thought I'd be in this position? Nope. Not now. Not ever. I see it as a major setback on a year that was going well.

But prior to surgery, the pain the night after the football game got to the point where there was no possible way I could even begin to do anything, let alone walk without intense pain – going under the knife was the last option I had.

Many of us in this industry, including myself, are very competitive.
This industry is tough and we all want make a difference in others lives by having our images appear on the front page of every major publication. We work hard, long days, and this dream job of everyone who owns a camera is demanding, largely on the physical side of the spectrum. Everyday sets a new challenge and it's easy to neglect things that are important to us - such as our health.

This article isn't supposed to be about my run in with bad health and luck, but a cautionary reminder for all of us lugging heavy gear around and putting stress on our bodies daily never to take our health for granted. I am not exactly sure what triggered my initial injury or reinjury, but I am sure my job played a part in having a back injury at some point - whether it happened now or in the future.

Photo by

Smith says his story is a cautionary reminder for all of us lugging heavy gear around and putting stress on our bodies daily never to take our health for granted.
There has been a lot of talk of illness and injury in the photojournalism community recently, including the courageous Joao Silva, who has since been hired as a full time staffer by the New York Times to help with medical care ( and Mickey Pfleger who lost his long battle with an illness (, among other notable stories.

I look at my situation and know it's a personal hell, but I also realize there are so many people out there suffering worse - photographers or not.

My "back-to-back" injuries were unexpected and probably unavoidable.
An injury can happen to anyone in any form or fashion at anytime. We never know. But this is a reminder to keep up with your health and have a plan in case something unexpectedly goes wrong with you or a loved one's health. I now find myself neck-deep in medical bills, unpredictably laid off by my publication during the holidays, and paying thousands to get my car and belongings back east. Not to mention, I am forced to leave a lot of amazing friends, photographers and inspirations behind in Utah because I was unexpectedly laid off.

But I have an overwhelming amount of support from friends, family and photographers in this amazing community of photojournalists helping me get through this tough time. I know it will take time to heal and cannot wait to grab my cameras and hit the streets again as I seek new employment – no matter what county, city, state, or country it takes me - once healthy again.

Be safe out there.

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