Giving back from the gridiron

Starting Bulldog quarterback Dak Prescott wears a green “Pray for Quinn” armband for a family—and a terminally ill 8-year-old boy—he met on Fan Day about a week before Mississippi State football launched the winningest season in university history.

While Prescott doesn’t know much about Sanfilippo syndrome, the Gregory family started learning everything there is to know about the disease when young Quinn was diagnosed in 2009.

“Quinn’s missing an enzyme that destroys the bad cells in his body,” father Brad explains. “It affects his brain, his nervous system, his ability to talk and his ability to learn. Eventually, he will not be able to talk, walk, eat or understand.”

There is no cure. There is no treatment.

All Brad, mother Suzanne and older sister Brayleigh can do, they agree, is protect Quinn, keep him as comfortable as possible and tell the world about Sanfilippo syndrome.

To their knowledge, Quinn is the only patient diagnosed with the disease in Mississippi. The Louisville family had green armbands made with “Pray for Quinn” printed on each one, and they regularly distribute them, telling recipients about the disease and asking them to pray.

“When I met the family at Fan Day, I learned that Quinn couldn’t talk and all the things he can’t do, but I’m not too familiar with the disease,” Prescott reveals. “I was given the bracelet at Fan Day and it was just another way to show a blessing—how blessed I am that I can help somebody and help that somebody’s family just by wearing this bracelet.

“I’m going to keep wearing it until it falls off or breaks. I will keep wearing it.”

As the family continues spreading knowledge about Sanfilippo syndrome by distributing armbands, posting on social media and explaining face-to-face, they are finding ways to appreciate the little things in life a little bit more, especially Mississippi State athletics.

“We go to all the football games, and Quinn tailgates with us when he can,” Suzanne says. “He goes to basketball games; they’re handicap accessible, and we all go to the spring Maroon and White game because he can sit in a wheelchair-accessible place.”

Rooting for the Bulldogs at various Mississippi State athletic match-ups was always a passion for Brad, who graduated from Mississippi State with his bachelor’s in marketing. After he married Suzanne, who completed her degree in education at Mississippi University for Women, she quickly converted to the Maroon and White. Both the kids have grown up always cheering for the Bulldogs.

Brayleigh says she particularly enjoys Mississippi State soccer, softball and baseball. When the 11-year-old Winston Academy sixth-grader goes to college, she says she plans to attend Mississippi State, play soccer and become a cheerleader.

“Quinn likes Bully. He used to say ‘Go Dawgs,’ one of the few phrases he did say before he stopped talking. It’s been about a year,” Suzanne says. “Quinn’s room has a mural painted on the wall of Mississippi State’s stadium, Bully and the football players.”

When Quinn met Prescott for the Alumnus magazine photo shoot, the quarterback signed a football and gave it to Quinn, who smiled, took it and began voicing “oohs” and “ahhs” over it. The Fair Elementary special needs student appeared incredibly happy to visit with Prescott; his smiles and claps seemed to indicate he knew something special was happening.

“It means everything to me to get to meet this family again,” Prescott says. “They’ve Tweeted me a few times when they saw that I had the bracelet on during games. It’s a blessing from God that I’m making them happy just by wearing the bracelet and showing it during the season. It’s awesome; I’m glad I can do such a little thing to make such a big difference. “

Suzanne says the football will go to Quinn’s bedroom and join the jersey former quarterback Tyler Russell gave Quinn after the Bulldogs’ Gator Bowl appearance in January 2014. Russell, who graduated with his bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies, has a mutual friend with the Gregory family.

Russell met the family by chance in a Louisville restaurant during that season, and Brad gave him an armband. Brayleigh first noticed he wore it during football games, and after the Gator Bowl, Russell came to the Gregory’s house to present Quinn with his game-day jersey.

After Suzanne gave Prescott an armband at Mississippi State’s Fan Day, the family hoped he would wear it, she says. The week following the Oct. 11 Auburn game, that Mississippi State won 38-23, the entire Gregory family wore their Mississippi State gear to their son’s appointment with Dr. J. Mark Reed, a pediatric ear, nose and throat physician at Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson.

“We just got to talking about our big win, and he said, ‘I want to show you something.’ He pulled up the picture on the computer, and the minute he pulled it up, the first thing I noticed was that green band,” Suzanne recalls. “I looked at Brad, and I said, ‘He’s still wearing it.’ Then, we explained to Dr. Reed.”

Reed’s photo became the cover shot on the winter 2014 issue of Alumnus.

The Gregorys agree that Prescott’s choice to wear the bracelet is helping to spread awareness of Sanfilippo, and every time they see him wear it, they feel comforted.

“For somebody to take a bracelet, it says a lot about his character—that he would put it on and that he would wear it, not really knowing us,” Suzanne said. “It means a lot to me as a mom just because Quinn won’t play football. He doesn’t get to go to the games anymore.

“But there’s a little part of him that’s there on the field because Dak Prescott is wearing it.”

Prescott said he feels humbled by helping to make a difference in the Gregory family’s lives.

“Wearing this bracelet is something so simple, and I enjoy everything such a little thing is doing for this family. I’m glad to be able to give back,” he says.
For the Gregory family, the attention from Mississippi State’s star quarterback is a light shining in the darkness.

“We can’t reverse the damage in Quinn’s body, so we just pray to get through the day,” Brad says. “But when Dak Prescott takes the field, there’s a little piece of Quinn out there playing sports.”

Join the movement to help find a cure for Sanfilippo syndrome. Learn more on Quinn’s Facebook page, “Quinn’s Quest with Sanfilippo” or at www.CaringBridge.org/visit/quinngregory.

By Leah Barbour, Photography by Russ Houston