Chase Smith kept the faith until the end

Patient Stories |

04/04/2021

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The 19-year-old who married his high school sweetheart even as he was given months to live passed away on Easter Sunday.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

On a day when Christians worldwide celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, one family bid a painful goodbye to their precious son/brother/husband, even while celebrating his entrance into heaven.

Chase Montgomery Smith, 19, left this world on Easter morning after a six-year fight with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer that attacked just about every part of the athletic teen’s body.

The champion swimmer, who once had dreams of competing in the Olympics, died at home, surrounded by his family, firm in his faith.

Kelli Smith said her son – “her heart’s treasure” – loved Jesus, loved his family, loved swimming and loved life.

“Anyone who knew him was blessed.”

SIX-YEAR FIGHT

With the help of his care team at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, including oncologist Dr. Melissa Bear, he fought back the cancer time and time again, beating it into submission from the age of 13.

Chase smiling at Riley at age 13 and age 18
Chase with Dr. Bear in 2015 (top) and 2021

But a year ago this month, it was back. The cancer had metastasized, spreading to his brain, lung, shoulder, back and hip. There was little more that could be done medically to halt the tumors.

Doctors gave Chase, then 18, three to five months to live. It was just weeks before he was to graduate from Indian Creek High School in Trafalgar, Indiana.

In the time he had left, he knew he wanted to be with the love of his young life, Sadie Mills. With the help of their family and their community, the two 18-year-olds pulled together a wedding in four days.

It took place April 29, 2020, in the driveway of Sadie’s home, the same place Chase had picked her up for their first date the year before, the same place they shared their first kiss.

Sadie in her white dress. Chase in his blue tuxedo.

“Sadie means the world to me,” Chase said last year. “I can’t put it into words.”

Their wedding, and their love, captivated the nation, as their story was shared around the country.

For the past year, the two have been nearly inseparable, with the exception of Sadie’s classes at IUPUI and her training as a champion diver.

Sadie has been good for Chase, Kelli Smith said last week during a family trip to Topgolf in Fishers, Indiana. “Sadie always sees the very best, and brings the very best to the table. She focuses on the good.”

ALL EYES ON CHASE

Kelli sat alone in her car for a few minutes that Tuesday night at Topgolf, talking on the phone.

It was a warm, beautiful evening, though storm clouds were forming in the distance. Nearby, her family was hitting golf balls and savoring the precious gift of time together.

Chase gets ready to play golf

All eyes were on Chase as he stood with perfect form, lined up his club and swung with all the strength he had. Around him were his dad, Brad; sister, Kaitlin; Sadie; and other loved ones who were treated to a night of golf from the local business.

For Kelli, it was a chance to see her beautiful boy savor one more moment of joy, even if she didn’t know how much time he had left.

“I never would have imagined that we would be this far into the year, but if there’s anybody that could have done it, it would be him,” Kelli said of her son. “He has survived sheerly on his will.”

Still, she knew he was growing weary.

“You can only take these poisons for so long before you’re just wiped out. I know how nasty this disease is and how it is so unrelenting.”

FAITH GUIDES THEM

Faith runs deep in the Smith family. While their most anguished moments may play out in private, they are comforted by the belief that God is with them always.

“I feel blessed 100 percent,” Chase said in an interview last year while on his way to an appointment at Riley. “A lot of people in my situation might think they’re being cheated, but the way I look at it is if I have to go through all of this to point back to God, that’s what I have to do. For him to use me in this way is a blessing.”

With Sadie by his side, they shared their story with local and national media to be a witness to their faith.

“I genuinely feel that God put me on this Earth and gave me this platform to be able to share the love that he can spread, to share what’s possible with his love,” Chase said last year.

He was faithful in that message. His spirit remained strong even as his body grew weak.

The Topgolf outing was one of many afforded the Smith family by scores of supporters in their community and around the country. It came at just the right time.

“If you had asked me before today if Chase would be feeling up to golf, I would have said no. Just the drive alone – it’s about 45 minutes – I was worried,” Kelli said. “But he was so excited to get here. He’s hit some balls; his natural athleticism has just carried over.”

Later that night, she posted this on Facebook: “This boy, he is my heart! I just want to hold him close and put him in my pocket. I am so thankful for today. … I am thankful that Chase felt like getting out and swinging a club. I am thankful that I saw a candid smile on his face.”

Within a day or two, Chase was slipping away. He was under hospice care at home.

Chase embracing Sadie as they look out to the ocean

He and Sadie were within weeks of celebrating their first anniversary. They hoped to honor the milestone the same way they did after their wedding – with a “familymoon” to Florida.

They didn’t get to make that trip, but they soaked up all the joy they could from the days, weeks and months they had together.

Even as Kelli desperately hoped to save her son, she finds peace in the belief that his life on Earth isn’t the end.

“I can’t imagine how glorious it’s going to be when he is up in heaven with God and he doesn’t have a limp and he doesn’t have scars and he doesn’t have pain.”

More About Chase:

Newlyweds find joy amid heartache - When doctors told 18-year-old Chase Smith he had just months to live, he knew what he wanted to do first – marry the love of his life. Now the couple want to inspire others with their story of faith.

Visit with college football champ Tim Tebow uplifts Riley patient - After scans showed that his cancer has spread, Chase Smith and his wife, Sadie, found comfort for a few hours during a trip to Florida. They played games, laughed and prayed with Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.

Related Doctor

related doctor headshot photo

Melissa K. Bear, MD, MS

Pediatric Hematology - Oncology