Credit: Zamir White on Instagram https://instagram.com/__zeus3

Doctors advised abortion, but football star Zamir White’s 14-year-old mother chose life

American football sensation Zamir White was born a fighter. The 22-year-old running back at the University of Georgia – the No. 1 ranked college football team in the USA – has a remarkable life story.

From being targeted for abortion, to being given just two weeks to live, Zamir has been on an incredible journey. Now weighing 225 pounds and measuring 6 feet tall, he is Georgia’s star rusher and an inspiration to many;  it’s hard to imagine that White was once a prime candidate for abortion.

At six months pregnant, his 14-year-old mother Shanee White was encouraged to have an abortion because her son was measuring small for his gestational age. However, his grandmother quickly intervened and declared, ‘He’s going to be born’, resolutely rejecting the attack on his life and encouraging her granddaughter to continue with the pregnancy.

White’s mother, Shanee White, was just 14 years old when she became pregnant with her first child. At six months, a doctor told her that her baby, a boy, weighed just one pound and advised her to abort her pregnancy, according to an ESPN interview.

Shanee thought that the doctor could be right, but her grandmother, Nancy, quickly intervened, ensuring that the baby was born.

“We’re not going to terminate the pregnancy,” she said. “No matter what’s wrong with him, he’s going to be born.”

Shanee, who was already overcome with worries about having a child while still a teenager and in school, urged her grandmother to heed the doctor’s advice. However, her grandmother was adamant that Shanee’s child deserved to live – regardless of the baby’s ability or disability.

“The doctor is not God, so he doesn’t have the last say,” her grandmother told her. “If he takes one breath, he’s going to take it.”

With her grandmother’s support, Shanee bravely continued her pregnancy, and on a September day in 1999, her baby boy was born. His mother may have gone against the doctors’ advice to terminate him, heroically choosing life, but the difficulties did not end there.

Although a once tiny Zamir had grown in weight to roughly seven pounds, he faced health difficulties and was born with a cleft lip and palate.

Cleft lips and palates are one of the most common physical abnormalities present in new-born babies at birth, and can be corrected with surgical procedures.

The day after his birth, the infant’s body temperature dropped and he started to lose weight as he wasn’t eating. He was then brought to a hospital in Chapel Hill in North Carolina, where doctors warned Shanee that her son might not live for another two weeks.

Shanee recalls, “I was just sitting there staring. I just looked at him for a long time like, ‘What am I going to do?'”
Remarkably, the same baby boy who was given just a fortnight to live survived and thrived. As a new-born baby, Zamir spent three months in the hospital before he was discharged to go home with his mother and great-grandmother, who fed him using a medicine dropper, which made feeding possible with his cleft lip and palate.

 

When Zamir turned six months old, he underwent the first of two operations to correct the cleft lip and palate, and then another surgical procedure at 15 months for kidney problems. A fourth surgery on baby Zamir corrected a hernia, and then a fifth surgery a few years later further improved his lap and palate.

From the outside looking in, Zamir was not the most likely candidate to become so successful, and he faced other significant obstacles. At the age of four, the family suffered the loss of their belongings when a fire tore through their home. He also dealt with fatherlessness, with his dad not in his life in part because he was jailed not long after Zamir was born.

Shanee has spoken of the detrimental impact growing up in Laurinburg, the fourth poorest city in North Carolina, had on Zamir’s peers. Many of them “fell victim to the streets” says Shanee, who is now a corrections officer.

However, Zamir found a strong father figure in his great-uncle, and at six years old, his family introduced Zamir to recreation league football. The football field became the great equalizer for the talented and tenacious young boy, who told ESPN, “It’s just a safe space for me [where] I can get away from everything I’ve been through. It’s just like therapy for me. I love football.”

Rising above a heavy array of challenges, Zamir went on to excel in school and was selected to play college ball at some of the nation’s top schools.

Reflecting on the obstacles Zamir was confronted with early on and throughout his life, his coach Dell McGee said that adversity prepared Zamir to persevere through back-to-back injuries which could have had the potential to overwhelm him.

“I just think it added to his ability to cope with outside factors,” said McGee. “It showed a lot of resiliency. Just that mindset of ‘nothing’s too big, I can overcome anything, any obstacle.’ I think all of that from his childhood growing up helped with those issues that he’s overcome.”

Today, Zamir White is the leading rusher on the No. 1 ranked college football team in America. The Georgia Bulldogs fan favourite, affectionately known as “Zeus” is now a potential NFL draft choice in 2022.

Speaking this month, head coach Kirby Smart singled Zamir out for his sterling leadership and work ethic. Commenting on the sporting growth of White, Smart said: “What he’s done is incredible in terms of carrying the workload, the leadership, the work ethic,” adding that, “There’s not a day he comes out to practice and doesn’t practice hard and the best thing about him is that he takes care of his body. He does a tremendous job.”

Most importantly though, Zamir has become a huge inspiration for children who were born with the same medical condition as him. Zamir and his family’s witness of persistence, courage and unrelenting love in the midst of struggle is inspiring many families facing a diagnosis of a cleft lip or palate. The story had a personal impact on Ashley Collins, a University of Georgia Bulldogs supporter, who along with her husband, met Zamir in 2019, shortly after learning that their unborn baby would be born with a cleft lip and palate.

Credit: Zamir White on Instagram https://instagram.com/__zeus3

 

Like Zamir’s own mother, they were advised to abort. Ashley said that knowing Zamir’s story transformed her outlook.

“Already knowing Zamir’s story at the time and then kind of relating it, you’re thinking, ‘Well, what if his mom had done the same thing?’ This is not a life-threatening condition. They’re going to have a good, sustainable life and be normal. For anyone to have even suggested [abortion] was mind-blowing and shocking,” Ashley shared.

Her baby girl, Harper, is now two years old, has undergone two corrective surgeries, and is happy and healthy.
In 2020, it was reported that by Gript that abortions for correctable cleft lip and palate were skyrocketing in England and Wales. A report released by Parliament in February 2020, revealed that the number of abortions committed where a cleft lip or palete was listed as a reason had increased by 150 per cent. The report shows that in 2011, 10 abortions were carried out because the minor abnormality had been detected, whilst this rose to 25 in 2018.

The NHS itself notes that children who receive treatment for cleft lips and palates grow up to lead completely normal lives. Yet even for the relatively minor and common condition, late-term abortion is permitted in the UK, at a time in their development, according to research, that these unborn children can almost certainly feel pain.

UK Plastic surgeon Oliver Fenton is a leading figure in the field of cleft palates who has spoken out against abortion performed because of the condition. Mr Fenton, who has seen deformities at their worst, argues that abortion should not be seen as a solution, and from his experience has seen that children born with such defects can live a normal life after corrective surgery.

“With surgery, these children can live perfectly normal lives. It’s treatable and it doesn’t interfere with their development in later life.

“Now the techniques are so advanced that the operation has a good prognosis. I would usually operate on a child with a cleft lip and palate, first on their lip at the age of three months and then on their palate at about nine months.”

Explaining the treatment which can be given, he stated: “A bone graft is usually carried out at the age of nine, where I take bone from their pelvis and graft it onto the gum. This is usually when their second set of teeth arrives.

“It’s a fairly standard procedure and one that has good cosmetic results. The children don’t usually need any operations after the age of nine. But they go to a clinic annually until the age of about 18, when their face has stopped changing.”

The most severe cases, he says, are not a reason for abortion.

“Even when […] the deformities have been left until the children are older, the problems are still able to be rectified,” Mr Fenton told The Daily Mail.

In Ireland, data is not available on the specific number of abortions for reasons such as cleft lip and palate, however, abortions are carried out for disabilities without time limit.

In a culture where abortion is legal and encouraged for those who are not believed to be planned or perfect, Zamir’s mother is glad she chose life.
Speaking to ESPN, she said: “I’m just glad I listened to my grandma. I didn’t want to have a child in high school. It wasn’t something that was planned, but it happened and he’s here, and I love him to death.”

Indeed, Zamir is determined to repay those who have believe in him, and is committed to paying their goodness forward. Speaking of his mother, he says he is “proud” of her for continuing to fight against the odds regardless of the obstacles life presented her.

“[A]fter having me so early, and seeing her keep fighting no matter what, I’m proud of her. That’s something I’ve got to pay her back for. I know she’s not expecting it. My mother doesn’t care about material things, but my goal is to make it to the NFL and support my mother, sister, and aunts for what they did for me.” Zamir has also teamed up with the disabilities organisation Extra Special People and is a proud ambassador and bright beacon for other children born with cleft lips and palates.

Head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, Kirby Smart, said he’s proud of Zamir’s inspirational witness for children with similar conditions.

He told ESPN: “He’s embraced it most of his life now,” Smart said. “So when he sees a young man or young woman with the same thing, they admire him. I’ve watched kids walk up to him and just light up, and he lights them up because he’s so charismatic.”

In the meantime, Zamir is focused on helping Georgia to triumph over Florida to win the SEC. Zamir is most definitely making the most of his chance at life, his talent, and the opportunities provided to him.

His former coach Richard Bailey told ESPN, “I always felt like God gave him a chance. I think he felt like he owed it to God and his family and everybody to just make the most of his talent and the most of his opportunity. I get chills thinking about it. But I really do think that part of his drive is, ‘I’m not going to cheat this opportunity. I’ve been given a lease on life.'”

Whilst doctors have recommended yet another surgery that would involve breaking and realigning his jaw, Zamir is reluctant to go through with it.

“I’m fine the way I am. I know I’m perfect in God’s eyes, and that’s all that matters to me,” Zamir says.

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