OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network

In his first full year back to school last September after undergoing a successful stem cell transplant, the first question 13-year-old Kai Goulbourne asked his mother, Shelley was, “Can I play basketball?”

Shelley was excited to be able to say yes because when Kai was only nine years old, she feared she was going to lose him to something that doesn’t play fairly – cancer.

“He was an active little boy at the time,” explains Shelley. “Playing basketball all the time. Eating well. But he was losing weight.”

A Brampton, Ontario doctor discovered Kai’s spleen was enlarged and ordered Shelley to take Kai to the hospital immediately. A blood test revealed Kai had chronic mylogenous leukemia (CML), an uncommon type of blood cancer more usual in older adults than children.

“This was the first time I saw my husband cry,” says Shelley. “And then to have to go back into the room and tell Kai …. We didn’t use the word ‘cancer.’ We told him this is a form of a blood disease … and Mommy and Daddy are going to do anything possible to help.”

By 2012, the medication Kai was being given was no longer working. The only option left was a stem cell transplant.

Because he is of Jamaican descent, and with no one in his family a match, finding a match was proving difficult. In May 2012, after a 60 per cent match was found in a cord blood donation and knowing finding a closer match was unlikely, Kai underwent the transplant.

Last April, Kai went back to school full time. “Thanks to the cord transplant, Kai is doing incredibly well,” says Shelley. “He’s no longer on any form of medication.”

And he’s living and breathing basketball. “He loves … loooves … to play basketball. He loves to watch it. He loves everything about basketball. That’s something that I keep promising to take him to – to watch a basketball match in Toronto. But it is pretty expensive. So I say, ‘I’m going to take you one day. In the meantime, watch it on the TV,” Shelley laughs.

Photography by Lorella Zanetti