Monterey High School senior Dillon Smith practices with teammate Alex Humphreys Thursday. Smith, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects the lungs and digestive system, plays basketball and baseball for Monterey. (Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat)
Monterey High School senior Dillon Smith practices with teammate Alex Humphreys Thursday. Smith, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects the lungs and digestive system, plays basketball and baseball for Monterey. (Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat)

Monterey boy conquers cystic fibrosis to play varsity basketball

Published 12:01am Sunday, January 19, 2014

MONTEREY — At first, Dillon Smith thought it was asthma, but none of the treatments seemed to work.

When he was 11 years old, Smith ended up at Tulane Medical Center, where they determined the cause of his breathing problems was cystic fibrosis.

Now a senior shooting guard at Monterey High School, Smith is having to fight against more than just his opponents every time he steps onto the basketball court. But so far, Smith is winning.

“It didn’t really change anything,” Smith said of his diagnosis. “That was probably a lucky day in my life, because then I could treat it. It’s been better since then.”

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that causes mucus to build up in the lungs and other areas of the body. The disease has significantly affected Smith’s daily routine.

“I have a long routine of pills — I take probably 20 to 30 a day,” Smith explained. “I do airway clearance therapy once a day for an hour to clear the mucus from my chest, and I go to Tulane every three months for a checkup.”

But it hasn’t stopped Smith from being one of the Wolves’ leaders on the court. Smith is one of Monterey’s top scorers, and he said he has gotten used to playing through the disease despite the stamina problems it sometimes causes.

“It definitely affects my play, but I’ve always had it, so I don’t know any better,” Smith said. “It generally doesn’t cross my mind unless I start coughing and hacking. Coach (Eric Richard) can usually tell and will pull me for a minute or two.”

Richard said Smith has had the disease long enough to know when it’s time to sit for a few minutes, but Richard said he doesn’t give Smith special treatment because he knows Smith doesn’t want him to.

“I try to notice, but he doesn’t want me to do anything that would bring attention to it,” Richard said. “He doesn’t like coming out of the game, but at the same time, he knows his body and when he needs a break.”

Teammate Jarrett Cooper said Smith is a leader on the court because of both his basketball skills and his knowledge of the game. Watching Smith play through his condition is something Cooper admires, he said.

“It just shows how tough he is and how strong he is,” Cooper said. “He tries to make every practice, but we understand why when he can’t.”

The winter months are especially tough for Smith, he said, but his determination to play basketball helps him fight through it.

“I feel sick more than I don’t,” Smith said. “It’s tough. I guess the love of the game keeps me motivated, and I have plenty of people supporting me, like my family and my coach.”

Richard said he admires Smith for not letting his condition keep him away from the game he loves.

“He’s never made any excuses for anything,” Richard said. “You wouldn’t know he had (cystic fibrosis) unless you really knew him. He’s never looked for sympathy and has been pretty durable with it. It’s amazing how he’s been able to perform, especially with basketball being such a cardio sport.”

Cooper said the rest of his teammates enjoy playing with Smith because of his positive attitude.

“He’s a good person,” Cooper said. “He’s funny and fun to be around. He never dogs anyone but brings them up (with his words).”

Though his high school career is drawing to a close, Smith said he would love to keep playing beyond this season.

“Not many people come and look at Monterey, but I’d love to play for a smaller (college),” Smith said. “I’m playing on the Miss-Lou Select team, so hopefully a few more recruiters will see me there.”

Smith is the son of Annette and Ray Smith.

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