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Originally published Friday, February 24, 2012 at 10:01 PM

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UW's Kellie McCann-Smith laughs through her father's pain

Washington women's player transferred to be closer to her ill father, who helps her keep perspective.

Seattle Times staff reporter


Washington State @ Washington, noon, ROOT

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A burst of laughter shot through the phone.

That was an unexpected sound from a family 72 hours removed from another medical scare.

Steve Smith, father of Washington sophomore Kellie McCann-Smith, awoke Wednesday to a familiar feeling. A terrible tightness in his chest. His breath coming in short, staccato bursts. He was rushed to a Spokane hospital from his home in Asotin. Doctors placed a ninth stent in his artery to keep blood flowing to his heart.

In the waiting room, his wife made the usual round of calls to the family of seven children and 14 grandchildren.

"I tried the texting thing once, but was told it's too impersonal. So now I just make the 3 million calls," Dawn Smith said, punctuating the story with a laugh.

Kellie McCann-Smith, enjoying an off-day from practice in Seattle, is all too familiar with the drill.

"It's kind of out of my control," she said of the health scares. "Growing up around it, it makes you look at the bigger picture. There are a lot of bigger things out there than the little things people worry about sometimes."

Steve Smith, 62, is a 40-year cancer survivor, but the cobalt radiation that put his disease in remission led to diabetes and jaw problems that required numerous surgeries. It also left scar tissue in his heart, requiring bypass surgery. Now he needs stents and catheters to keep blood flowing.

He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1997. The disease forced him to use a cane, then a walker, and now he gets around in an electric scooter.

But before cuing violins, insert laughter.

"It sounds like he has one foot in the grave, and he does, but oh well, you just roll with it," said Dawn Smith, 51. "And you've got to laugh. Sometimes he tips over or falls off the sidewalk and we're too busy laughing so hard to notice people are worried. It's life, and someone always has it worse."

The seriousness of Steve's condition is why McCann-Smith is at Washington. She witnessed the relentless march of her father's MS and thought she could handle playing at Nebraska, which was a 24-hour drive for her mother.

They could only make the trip three times, however. The Cornhuskers' move to the Big Ten meant fewer trips west, so McCann-Smith opted to transfer. Because one of her father's doctors is at Virginia Mason, the NCAA granted McCann-Smith a family-emergency waiver so she could play immediately.

Her parents haven't missed a home game until this week, when UW (14-11, 6-9 Pac-12) hosts rival Washington State (10-17, 4-11) Sunday afternoon.

But he'll be in his seats behind the Huskies bench when the team hosts UCLA and USC to end the regular season next week.

"I graduated from WSU, so it's kind of hard to wear purple when you've always been a Cougar," said Steve, a former high-school teacher. "But I'm more than happy to do it when Kellie's involved. We're glad she's closer to home. I just hope it works out."

Childhood memories for McCann-Smith were carefree, the youngest of six girls in a blended family.

Dawn divorced Kellie's biological father when her daughter was a baby. Steve's first wife died of breast cancer. He met Dawn three years later and the two married in 1994. All seven of the children were in the wedding.

The family lived on an eight-acre farm atop a hill in Asotin, a town of 1,251 along the Idaho border in Southeastern Washington. Kellie helped raise champion pigs, longhorn cattle and horses. The girls played basketball in the driveway.

McCann-Smith averages 4.3 points and 14.3 minutes off the bench for Washington.

She doesn't have to worry about being too far from home if her family needs her.

Her father loves being able to watch her home games.

"I just feel really blessed to have seen all my girls grow," Steve said.

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or

On Twitter @JaydaEvans

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