Childhood disability initiated former Grady Hospital worker’s career path of helping people through medicine
By Timothy Cox, Special to Atlanta Daily World
As the youngest of three children born to Army 2nd Lt. Calvin Smith and Betty Cross (Stratton) Smith, Sheldon Stewart Smith, aka “BuBu”who now goes by Ahmses SaRa Maat, grew up aspiring to become a military hero, much like his father, who was a WWII veteran in the African American flying regiment known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
During the early 1990s, while living in Morrow, Ga., Dr. Maat spent quality time as a respiratory therapist at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital, one of the world’s leading Level 1 emergency trauma centers. “I certainly relish my developmental years while at Grady,” said Dr. Maat.
Childhood disability empowered and unknowingly helped steer his career path form Grady Hospital to the present.
He often reflects on how growing up with chronic asthma impacted his life as a teen and young adult, trying to avoid peer pressure.
“It was tough because kids can be mean. Along with the asthma, I also suffered skin rashes. I’d get teased by the boys, but even worse – my girlfriends would shy away, once the skin disorder took effect,” he sadly recalls. I can recall lying in bed praying to God for the ability to just breathe normally like everyone else.”
Living with asthma as a child, not only hindered Dr. Maat’s aspirations for early athletic prowess, but after high school graduation, a failed military physical exam, likewise stopped his chances to volunteer for the Air Force in efforts to follow his dad’s and older brother’s military careers. His older brother, Newt Smith II, is a retired Air Force officer. In May of 2018, a former Veterans park in Beaver Falls, Pa., was officially re-named the Lt. Calvin Smith Tuskegee Airman Veterans Park.
Void of clear-cut career-goals after graduating from Beaver Falls High School in 1977, Dr. Maat, who never considered himself a committed academician in high school, reflects on a senior-year 1.47 GPA when he needed a 1.5 average to graduate. Having learned techniques for the game of chess from his father, he challenged the high school’s woodshop teacher to a game. If he wins, he graduates high school. If he loses, he repeats another year. Apparently, his Dad’s coaching tips paid-off.
Following his early training at Community College of Beaver County (Pa.)and Community College of Allegheny County (Pa.), Dr. Maat initially worked as a respiratory therapist at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh before eventually landing at Grady Hospital. He quickly developed star-quality studying patterns while attending both at CCBC and CCAC and during his first job as a registered respiratory therapist supervisor at Allegheny General Hospital — a stark contrast from his academic performance in high school.
Studying and practicing in Atlanta resulted in a B.S degree in respiratory care from Georgia State University and post-bachelor’s degree in perfusion technology from Northeastern University in Boston.
While studying and focusing on African spirituality and physics, he attained his Ph.D. in 2000 from the Metaphysical Institute of Higher Learning in San Bernardino, California.
Fast-forward to winter 2020, amid the coronavirus and COVID-19 outbreak, Dr. Maat finds himself in an unprecedented battlefield – on the front-lines of America’s first pandemic in 100 years as a medical professional treating patients suffering from chronic respiratory deficiencies.
With over 40 years of experience and training as a respiratory therapist, and later as a perfusionist, Dr. Maat, during a pandemic, now serves as a highly-sought-after traveling medical practitioner on the frontlines battling COVID-19 in one of the nation’s largest hotspots – Cleveland Clinic/Fort Lauderdale-Miami, Florida.
Helping stem COVID-19’s growing rates among Blacks
“While coronavirus patients typically display symptoms requiring oxygen support with symptoms such as chest pains, shortness of breath and muscle aches, the use of external respirators and ventilators are typical devices used to treat respiratory deficiencies,” says Dr. Maat. His perfusionist training requires expertise in administering artificial lungs, hearts and kidneys used during the replacement process of heart-lung bypass surgeries.
“My role as a perfusionist is to keep the patient alive during the replacement of organs, kidneys, lungs, hearts, during the entire operation. Where advanced cardio life-support ends, perfusion life-support begins,” explains Dr. Maat.
Amid current cases of COVID-19 cases rising throughout the United States with disproportionate numbers impacting African Americans, Dr. Maatknows and understands how valuable his knowledge, experience and overall skillsets are during this pandemic.
But the real question that must be answered is why the African American community has suffered more than any other group during the pandemic?
Dr. Maat, now 61, credits the disparaging numbers affecting people of color who generally suffer with lower immune systems. Those are the ones suffering from diabetes, hypertension and obesity. It’s also a fact that too often, black folks don’t eat lots of vegetables and have lived in
environments with high toxins like lead-based paints. Although the larger cause is systemic racism and oppression, it exists all throughout the globe including America and the medical industry, unfortunately.” he said.
“Systemically, as a respiratory therapist or clinical perfusionist, [having received much of my training at Grady hospital I tend to see a system geared toward a certain population facing more social ills. I want to make the world a better place, doing what I do – and my non-African peers they see what’s going on, and they too, want to do the right thing,” he added.
Living in a sports-related environment was challenging
Growing up in sports-enthused Western Pa., specifically in Beaver Falls, “Like all the kids in my 15th Street neighborhood, I wanted to play football, basketball and baseball – and become the next Joe Willie Namath, our hometown hero and Super Bowl III quarterback”, says Dr. Maat.
“Hoops and football couldn’t work for me, but I enjoyed playing baseball. It didn’t demand the intense running like basketball, and it wasn’t dirty and dusty like football. I always had to concern myself with staying healthy at all times –so I always carried my inhaler,” he noted.
In retrospect, Dr. Maat targets his asthma woes with environmental impacts. He lived next door to the now-razed Armstrong Cork plant, which consistently emitted smokey fumes and white, ashy particles from its factory walls. He also lived with two cigarette-smoking parents.
By the time he reached age 12, with the influence of a childhood neighbor, Richard “Dicky” Morris, Dr. Maat started taking Karate lessons from the now infamous Beaver County School of the Oriental Arts of Self-Defense, headed by the family of Willy Wetzel and Roy Wetzel, one of the nation’s first Karate instructional schools, located in Beaver Falls and later, Rochester. In March of 1975, the school closed after a much-reported family battle between son Roy and father, Willy. The older Wetzel died of strangulation, according to published reports.
Aside from the controversial homicide, Dr. Maat says his Karate and Judo experience tremendously impacted his breathing patterns and primarily helped him to overcome childhood asthma.
With a growing reputation of being incredibly skilled in martial arts throughout Beaver County, Dr. Maat was also able to leave behind unfavorable experiences of being bullied by larger upper classmates while in high school.
He likewise credits his mother and Godmother, Marian Jane Taylor, for tending to his crisis situations as a youngster – and later ensuring that he was proficient at self-care, even at a young age. “I was always a mama’s boy,” he admitted. “She was fully committed to my ailment; and would often take-off work early to ensure my medical needs were met – self-care is essential to my health and has always been a part of my proactive healthy lifestyle.” he recalls.
Career and Family development
While living in Atlanta and working at Grady Hospital he joined an anti-KKK protest march in Forsyth County, Ga. in 1987, led by the late Rev. Hosea Williams, one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) colleagues, along with SCLC head, the Rev. Joseph Lowery.
“In the late 1980s, when South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela was released from prison – that sparked my interest in the liberation of black people all over the world and to live a more revolutionary lifestyle,” says Dr. Maat.
In explaining his name-change, he says, “It’s similar to when Lew Alcindor changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The reason for the name-change was based on my culture, I was Sheldon X in 1992 as a member of the Nation of Islam, and in October 1995, I led a medical brigade from LA to Washington, DC, to be a part of the ‘Million Man March.”
Dr. Ahmses Maat is married to Akua Two Hawk Maat, sharing a blended family including four adult children: Alexia, Malika, Mnsa and GyeNyame Maat.
*2004 World Games Athens Greece – U.S. National Martial Arts Team – California Director – Montu team won 12 medals 6 are gold. * 2007 Essence of the martial arts (Movie) https://bonitaentertainmentllc.com/film/eoma.html
*2009 – 2010 African Heart Symposium in Tanzania East Africa presentation on “Perfusion Technology” and research on Maat Thermal Therapy.https://www.jamiiforums.com/threads/d-salaam-hosts-continental-heart-specialists-seminar.43115/
* 2010 Mrs., Akua Two Hawk Maat’s bachelorette degree in communication and marketing was put to the test when she successfully got Ahmses on Oprah Winfry’s “Make Over Your Man” Show. …https://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/tim-gunns-most-challenging-man-makeovers/all * 2016 Cardiostart Ghana West Africa, 8 successful open hearts.https://cardiostart.org/ghana-2016-mission-report/
* 2019 Honorary Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from the Ghana Naturopathic Medical Association.
* 2020 Traveling Certified Clinical Perfusionist providing open heart and ECMO services.