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Today’s professional football world has never seen a player like Shaquem Griffin.

In 2016, he won the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year award, with 92 total tackles, 11.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and an interception. (For you non-football folks, that’s really good.)

In March 2018, he clocked the fastest 40-yard dash time for a linebacker in the NFL Scouting Combine since 2003.


And in April 2018, he lived out every aspiring football player’s dream of playing in the NFL when he was drafted as a defensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks.

The big kicker? He’s accomplished all of that one-handed. Literally.

Shaquem Griffin starred on the undefeated University of Central Florida football team last year. Photo via Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Griffin’s left hand was amputated when he was 4 years old.

He was born with a condition called amniotic band syndrome, a rare disorder that occurs in the womb, causing the amniotic sac to entangle with limbs. Before the amputation, the tissue in Griffin’s left finger was soft, “like a glove filled with jelly,” according to ESPN.

It was also painful. "Everything I touched burned," Griffin told the network.

His mother, Tangie, recalled her son attempting to cut off his fingers one night to relieve the pain. She called the next day to schedule the surgery.

Shaquem will join his twin brother, Shaquill, on the Seahawks roster. Shaquill, who is one minute older than Shaquem, was drafted last year by the Seattle team.

Missing a hand has definitely raised challenges in his life, but Griffin has never let it hold him back.

Shaquem Griffin had to work hard to get to where he is today — professional football requires intense dedication, and is definitely not for the faint of heart. His indomitable will is nothing short of infectious.

"Never let anyone tell you what you can't do," he told College Gameday in 2016. "If somebody says you can't walk, prove them wrong. Somebody tells you can't play football, prove them wrong."

Griffin's success in football offers representation to kids with disabilities.

Heroes that we feel a connection with are important. They inspire us, they give us something to shoot for, and they remind us that we are capable of great things.

Kids with disabilities don't often see themselves reflected in the highest ranks — especially in mainstream professional sports. To see a man with one hand playing on an NFL team opens up a world of possibilities for those who have been told, directly and indirectly, that they are not physically made for certain things.

Take, for example, this young cheerleader, who was born with the same condition as Shaquem Griffin and who is one of his biggest fans:

Griffin credits his family for helping him develop his strength and attitude. In an open letter to the general managers in the NFL, Griffin wrote about a coach from his childhood who told him he shouldn't play football. Griffin said it was his family who pushed him to never give up.

"I’m blessed to have thick skin. But I’m even more blessed to have a family that never let me make excuses and who raised me to never listen to anybody who told me I couldn’t do something — especially because of my hand."

Here's to Shaquem Griffen single-handedly changing the face of the NFL.  

All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

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