David Smith has never had an easy life. He was born three months early into a broken home where drugs and abuse were the norm. He was born with Retinopathy of Prematurity, a condition that can cause visual impairment and blindness in premature infants.
David struggled with visual impairment all of his life. He has no vision in his right eye, and has limited sight in his left eye that lets him get around unassisted in familiar places.
In 2016, at age 34, he was declared legally blind. That turning point in his life led him on the road to become a nurse with WellMed, and a leader in the visually impaired community in San Antonio, Texas.
Change of vision, and attitude
His loss of vision didn’t happen overnight. “For so long, I felt like I had to blend in. I was chasing the person I wanted to be,” said David, an LVN and WellMed fitness instructor at the Northeast Senior Center in San Antonio. “But as my vision got worse, I couldn’t hide the fact that I had to practically lay my face down on a book in order to read it. And to see someone’s face, I had to get into his or her personal space. Very awkward.”
David developed a fierce passion for helping others embrace challenges and make changes to improve their health. He’s also passionate about helping people to see abilities in others – not disabilities. “I’m a whole different person than I was before I became legally blind,” he said. “I guess it gave me the confidence to know that I can do anything.”
Earning high marks in school and the real world
David put his nose to the grindstone – and the books – to study to become a nurse.
“It wasn’t easy; I had to work harder and spend longer hours studying because of my visual impairment,” he said. “I made it through on three to four hours of sleep a night.”
The diligence paid off. David graduated first in his class from nursing school in 2005. He succeeded despite the lack of adaptive devices at his college that can help the visually impaired, such as handheld video magnifiers.
Upon graduation, he was advised to find a slow-paced environment. “I’ve had to defend myself – even with colleagues in my own profession,” David said. “Eventually, I started second-guessing myself.”
There were bumps in his career road. He was working for WellMed as a medical coder. His job was to review paper work and code the diagnosis. Despite having adaptive equipment, David says he could not do his job well and meet quotas. He was suffering with eye pain and flashing lights. In the end, he could not keep up.
A match made through tenacity
When UnitedHealth Group purchased a significant stake in WellMed, job structures changed, but David remained with the company. Fearing that his days may be numbered, he wrote a letter explaining that he knew he could be an asset. He sent that letter to everyone up the leadership chain, including the head of UHG.
His tenacity caught the attention of a few people. “I knew David’s nursing experience, his degree in exercise science, and most of all, his overflowing compassion, would make him an ideal fit at the San Antonio Senior Center,” said Eva Trevino, director of senior community services and his supervisor.
“I knew I wanted David on my team from the day I met him,” Eva said. “He genuinely cares about people’s welfare and health. He takes on any challenge; he’s the model of not letting anything get in your way. It’s an honor to work with him.”
David teaches older adults how to develop a fitness plan and live a healthier lifestyle. “David has impacted so many lives. In our eight-week program, he has helped countless seniors build strength and improve their mobility,” Eva said. “They feel better. Many get off their meds and they start living their best, healthiest life.”
A passion for sports – on and off the field
Losing much of his sight didn’t keep David from staying active. As soon as he learned of a developing beep baseball team in San Antonio, he was all in – not only as a player, but also as co-captain of the San Antonio Jets. The team recently placed second in the world championship.
Beep baseball is an adaptive form of baseball for the blind and visually impaired. Players rely on their auditory skills to swing at a beeping baseball and navigate the buzzing bases. Only the pitcher and catcher are sighted. David describes the game as hard core. “This game can be hard on the body, so we teach players how to protect themselves from injury,” he said.
David’s passion for sports for the blind runs deep. He and five others started a non-profit organization – the Texas Adaptive Play Initiative – to support sports for the visually impaired.
“Our goal is to financially support any kind of blind sports in Texas. We want to teach blind individuals to overcome their hesitation to play blind sports,” David said. “We want to eliminate the barriers that keep people from being active.”
A seat on the board
Because of his dedication to the Jets, blind sports and community wellness, the president of the National Beep Ball Association nominated him to serve on the board of directors. David was elected to the board in August 2022.
Who he is today
Family life also keeps David busy. He and his wife of nearly 15 years, Crystal, have two girls, Emery, 20, Kaylie, 13, and two boys, David Jr., 10, and Bryson, 7.
David has cataracts and his retinas are fragile. He’s not sure what the future will bring, but he’s seizing every moment and living it to the fullest.
Still, he is optimistic. Always moving forward, David is pursuing an advanced degree in health care administration.
“The future looks bright for me and holds a tremendous opportunity for development and growth – not only as a leader in the health care industry, but as someone who can offer my best to help others live a healthy life.”
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