Commentary

Lateef plays catch with RG III

Originally Published: July 20, 2012
By Greg Sukiennik | ESPN.com

Watching 8-year-old Lateef Brock get his wish to spend a day with Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins in June, you wouldn't guess he had received a kidney transplant within the past year.

Nor would you know that he had been diagnosed with kidney disease as an infant or that he had spent much of his young life in doctors' offices and hospitals, undergoing tests and procedures and taking medications.

Yet there he was, on a sunny morning at the Redskins' team facility, throwing a football around with Griffin, the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and one of the league's brightest young stars.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Carolyn KasterLateef Brock ran drills with RG III and threw the football around with him on the day his wish came true.

"I consider Lateef a miracle baby in all senses of the word," said his father, Howard Brock.

Lateef loves riding his bike, swimming and playing flag football and video games. He has the healthy appetite and the bright-eyed, expressive smile of a happy, growing boy. And he loves the Redskins.

"He really likes football, and Daddy is a Redskins fan," said his mother, Claris Brock. "He watches with Daddy, and he knows everyone on the team. He likes the way RG III plays."

During his day with the Redskins, Lateef hung out with the team, took part in drills and shredded the Washington defense for a touchdown run on the final play of practice. He chatted with RG III like they had been teammates for years. And he smiled the bright smile of a little boy whose big dream was coming true right before his eyes.

"If you see him playing with a group of kids, you'd never know he's a child who has been through so much, " said Claris Brock. "He's resilient. He has an inner strength. He's a happy little boy, and he's very determined."

He needed to be, considering where he's been.

In March 2005, the Brocks of Clinton, Md., met Lateef, then 1 month old, and welcomed him into their home. The Brocks, who both work as educators, got involved in foster parenting because they wanted to help children with health problems. And Lateef, their first placement as certified foster parents, faced significant medical challenges.

Lateef was born with a form of bladder dysfunction, and a related medical emergency when he was just days old damaged his kidneys. He was diagnosed with end stage renal disease, a chronic, serious and incurable kidney condition that would eventually require a transplant.

Multiple doctors' visits followed -- so many, Claris Brock said, that "after 400 visits I stopped keeping track." In the meantime, the Brocks began the process of formally adopting Lateef as their son in September 2006, a year after he entered their world. The adoption became official two years later.

When I look at Lateef and see everything that he's gone through, it makes me stronger.

-- Howard Brock, Lateef Brock's father

"Through all that he's been through, he hasn't stopped fighting. He hasn't given up. He hasn't refused to take the medicines that help to maintain his health," Claris Brock says of her son. "You think of it, he's been fighting all his life to live."

It has inspired his father too.

"When I look at Lateef and see everything that he's gone through, it makes me stronger," Howard Brock said.

As Lateef grew, his doctors waited to see if his kidneys could keep up. But monthly blood tests that started when he was 5 years old showed his kidney function was decreasing. In January 2012, the Brocks met with the transplant team at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to prepare for the surgery they always knew their son would need. His name was placed on the national waiting list.

A first call for an available kidney came in September 2012, but the donor kidney proved unsuitable for transplant. The second call, on Nov. 6, 2012, resulted in a successful transplant.

Lateef was home in a week, but he wasn't out of the woods. Two weeks after surgery, an infection, connected to his bladder condition, landed him back in the hospital for another 10 days. The infections persisted for another two months until doctors brought the problem under control.

He was back in school this year on Jan. 7. He's playing flag football -- contact sports are out for medical reasons -- and enjoying the life of an active, growing boy.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Carolyn KasterEight-year-old Lateef Brock had a wish granted when he worked out with Robert Griffin III and the Redskins this summer.

Which brings us back to Lateef's wish.

Lateef got his first hint of what was in store when Redskins coach Mike Shanahan called the family at home to let him know that he had been drafted by the team and was needed at minicamp.

The boy who loves to talk was suddenly at a loss for words.

"His only response was 'ohhhh-kayyyyyy,'" Claris Brock said. "Like 'I can't believe this is actually happening.' And this is the kid who's very talkative."

On June 11, a limousine picked up the Brock family -- Lateef, his 5-year-old adopted brother Elias and their parents -- and brought them to the team's training facility in Ashburn, Va. The Redskins rolled out the figurative red carpet, complete with cheerleaders, high-level negotiations with Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen -- it turns out that candy makes a great signing bonus -- a personalized jersey and a news conference.

At first, when asked if he would like to say a few words, Lateef cracked up the assembled media, team officials and friends by asking, "Do I have to?"

But he did speak, and what he said touched his mother's heart.

"The nicest thing was when he said, 'My mom made this possible,'" Claris Brock said of her son's news conference. "So of course I got emotional."

From there, it was on to the Redskins' locker room, where Lateef met Griffin and his new teammates, and then out to the practice bubble for the day's workout. Griffin and Lateef talked as they headed for the bubble.

"My mom has a cast, just like you," Lateef said, referring to the brace Griffin wears to protect his surgically repaired right knee. "She tore her ACL."

"She did?" Griffin asked.

"Yes," Lateef answered.

"How's she feeling now, man?" Griffin asked.

"Good," Lateef said.

"That's good," Griffin said.

As the team went to work, Lateef and RG III tossed a football around. Griffin dropped back and lofted a pass; Lateef, running a fly pattern, never broke stride and watched the ball all the way into his hands like he was Pierre Garcon hauling in a touchdown pass.

"Let me see your touchdown dance!" Griffin said.

Lateef spun the ball on the ground and performed his dance, leaning back and wiggling his arms up and down as Griffin burst out laughing.

"Oh, my goodness, for days after he was talking about it," Claris Brock said of the experience. "He was very humble about it [at school the next day], which is not a bad thing. But it's definitely something he'll always remember."

She said Lateef learned to swim this summer and has been spending his days playing in the backyard and riding his bike. He'll get to see RG III again when the NFL regular season begins, as the Redskins gave the family tickets to their home opener on "Monday Night Football" against the Eagles on Sept. 9.

In the meantime, the Brocks are thankful for all the help and support they've received from their family, friends and the Children's National Medical Center. They feel blessed that their prayers for Lateef were answered. And they're amazed by their son's resilience.

"I told him in some moments, 'What you're going through, there's adults who would never be able to go through something like this,'" Claris Brock said.

"He's a very strong little boy."

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