Charcandrick West has juvenile arthritis. Now he’s dodging tackles in the NFL.
It’s a scene fans of the Kansas City Chiefs football team know well: Charcandrick West crashes into a tackler, spins and breaks free, then shifts into high gear as he races downfield. Yet Charcandrick, now in his fourth season as a running back for the Chiefs, never forgets that he has faced a more challenging opponent: systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (sJIA). It appeared at age 14, and symptoms became so severe that one doctor predicted the teen might never walk again, much less play football.
Charcandrick, 26, credits his family and faith with helping him persevere and pursue a career in the National Football League. “I feel like the Lord had a plan for me,” he says. “He got me here, and I was able to live out my dream.”
Charcandrick was an energetic, outgoing kid growing up in Cullen, Louisiana. His first love was baseball, but then his mother, Demetrice, married Toccara Ford, who coached peewee football. In no time, Charcandrick was hooked.
His lightning speed made him a natural running back, and Toccara worked with him, throwing his stepson pass after pass with the agreement that Charcandrick would do 10 pushups for every ball he dropped. By high school, Charcandrick was ready for the limelight. He made the varsity team as a freshman, and in the first game he played, he scored three touchdowns in a thrilling victory.
But glory was replaced by alarm the following morning. “I woke up and it was crazy – I could hardly move,” says Charcandrick. His mother found him paralyzed with joint pain, feverish and covered with red blotches. Charcandrick eventually would be admitted to several hospitals for days at a time, but his symptoms left doctors stumped.
Then, a month after they emerged, the symptoms vanished. Charcandrick built up the strength and weight he had lost while bedridden and was ready to play football in his sophomore year. But about a year later, the symptoms returned, only worse, with pain and stiffness so excruciating he was often unable to walk; at those times, Toccara carried him. Charcandrick spent three weeks in the hospital, undergoing tests for everything from hepatitis to HIV. He became deeply depressed, lost interest in eating and even playing video games, a favorite pastime. Demetrice never left his side. “I refused to let my baby give up,” she says.
A Diagnosis, At Last
Charcandrick was eventually referred to a rheumatologist in Shreveport, who diagnosed systemic JIA. The doctor prescribed a biologic, and within a week the symptoms began to fade and were gone within a month or so. His doctor weaned him off the medicine and told him the disease was in remission.
Charcandrick returned to the football field and excelled. He was named to the Louisiana All-State team and starred at Abilene Christian University in Texas, scoring 30 touchdowns during his four years there. Although Charcandrick wasn’t selected in the 2014 NFL draft, he signed as a free agent with the Chiefs that year. The following season he stepped in as running back, rushing for 634 yards and scoring five touchdowns during a stretch when the team won 11 games in a row.
Stepping Up for Kids
Charcandrick does not take medications now and says he feels like his arthritis is gone, but Demetrice isn’t as certain.
“At any given time, it could flare up, and here we are all over again,” she says.
For his part, Charcandrick is focusing on kids who are coping with arthritis. “Having [arthritis] slowed me down so that I wasn’t able to do all the things I wanted as a kid. That opened my eyes,” he says. Earlier this year, Charcandrick appeared (with Jillian Reid, above, age 10, Kansas City, Missouri) in a music video, titled “Body of Steel,” created by the Singing for Superheroes organization to raise awareness about childhood arthritis and help raise funds for the Arthritis Foundation. When he spoke with Arthritis Today in June, Charcandrick was preparing to attend an event for kids with arthritis and their families. His message for them: “Never give up. No dream is too big.”
Author: Timothy Gower
- Arthritis Foundation Juvenile Arthritis Conference
- Juvenile Arthritis Signs & Symptoms
- Know SJIA