(Thomas Ford, on the left, with his cousin, Leland Smith on the right)
I remember visiting my cousin Leland’s house from a very young age. Spending time with family has and always will be one of the most important things to me, but spending time with Leland was always different. My first memories of my cousin were of his little blue hat–a padded helmet he would wear whenever the cousins were over. Leland wore this hat because he was born with hemophilia, as were two of my other cousins, and he needed to take preventative measures to make sure that if he did have an accident, there was some “padding for his noggin.” I was blessed to not have had to endure the hardships of being born with hemophilia, but at the same time, I was put into a situation that has given me what I consider to be a unique perspective.
For the entirety of Leland’s life, he’s been nothing but a cousin and friend to me, and I to him. He wasn’t my sickly cousin that I felt bad for, he wasn’t the fragile first-born that he was to his mother, nor someone I felt like I had to take care of or that needed my help. In retrospect, that probably would have been the smart, not to mention, helpful, way to approach things, but now, as both of us are young adults, I feel it was all for the best.
When I think of my cousin, I think of great taste in movies, video games that I will never be good at (much to his dismay), and how he laughed at literally everything I said up until he was 13 years old. I do not think of hemophilia when I think of him. He’s my cousin, not my cousin with hemophilia.
The challenges and hardships faced by those with bleeding disorders are something that I will never fully understand or relate to. But the best thing that I can do as Leland’s friend and cousin is treat him exactly the same way I do all my other cousins and friends. He’s not special because he has hemophilia–it’s just part of who he is, and in no way does it define who he is as a person. Like anything is one’s life, it has shaped him into the person he is today, and he’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever met because of that.
I respect him for what he has to put up with, but still expect him to have convictions, treat people with the same respect that he would want to be treated with, and stay true to himself and where he comes from. If you’re reading this, chances are you are either a hemophiliac or are close to someone who is, so remember that no matter how big of a part hemophilia plays in your own life or your loved one’s life, it does not define you. You are better and stronger than your condition, and don’t you ever forget that.
“Having hemophilia has shaped my cousin into the person he is today, and he’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever me because of that.” –Tom Ford