Each of the six finalists for the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2015 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced February 1.
University: University of South Florida
Vitals: 6-6, 310-pound senior offensive lineman
Quick Hits: Recently graduated from USF with a degree in economics. … After a redshirt in 2010 he started 46 of the next 47 games he played for the Bulls and finished his college career with the second-most starts in school history. … Missed only one regular-season game in four years. … After three seasons as a right tackle, made the move inside to guard for his final year.
There is this unique passion and tone when a parents talk about the first time they saw their newborn child. It was nothing different for Quinterrius Eatmon and his wife, Melyza, nearly two years ago. Only difference for the Eatmon’s was their daughter, Melaynna Savannah, could not see her parents. And nearly a month after her birth came the sobering news that Melaynna Savannah will very likely never be able to see anything.
INSIDE THE STORY
Always a large and imposing figure, Eatmon overcame plenty of life hurdles in order to get to Tampa and USF in 2010. Raised by his mother, who worked two and three jobs to support three kids, the lure of drugs and crime was very strong in the tiny coastal Alabama town where Eatmon grew up.
He was considered a 360-pound project when he came to USF, a school that stuck by Eatmon even when a heart ailment that required surgery scared a school like Auburn off. But Eatmon would have to work hard to get himself in good enough shape to create and opportunity to play.
Eatmon and Melyza Daniel had a chance meeting in the same math class. Over time Eatmon won over his future wife, who was at USF on a full academic scholarship, with his persistence and work ethic.
The pregnancy wasn’t easy, either. The possibility of a problem with the child’s brain development was real. Suddenly going to class and playing football became extremely difficult for Eatmon. Shortly after Melyza graduated with a degree in sociology, she went into labor and Melaynna Savannah was born in early May of 2013.
THE RARE JOURNEY
The diagnosis for the Eatmon family seemed so cut and dry. Their daughter had Septo-optic dysplasia, and nearly 95 percent of children diagnosed with this rare disease that affects only 1 in 10,000 newborns, have to learn braille in order to communicate.
Plus little Melaynna Savannah, who already could not see, also had Nystagmus — which is rapid, uncontrollable movements of the eye that caused the baby to panic when not in the arms of her mother.
Eatmon, who has a strong faith, felt tested on so many fronts and struggled big-time in the classroom and on the field.
Surgery opened the door for what the Eatmon’s call a “miracle”. Their daughter reacted to a camera flash and seemed to follow the light. Limited sight is better than no sight, and it’s likely that Melaynna Savannah, who is almost 2 years old, will most likely be able to read large-print books when she’s older.
The doctors still struggle to provide an explanation for the progress Melaynna Savannah has made. But the Eatmon’s believe faith played a part.
“I’m a man of faith and believe in God, but I got so low that I was questioning what’s God doing to me, to her, to us. But I snapped out of it immediately because I thought about the environment where I came from. I really should either be dead or in jail, but I made it out. I thought the toughest part of my life was over, but I just needed to have some more faith.” – Quinterrius Eatmon
“You see him play, but no one knows who that person is inside the helmet. What kind of human being is that? Well, I’ll tell you this. I think my husband is one of the strongest people you’ll ever meet.” – Melyza Eatmon