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ABQ teen gets his wish, meets his hero, LeBron James

They said it couldn’t be done.

Earlier this month, I introduced you to a young man in Albuquerque named Kyle Osborne who is battling a rare and deadly form of cancer, and whose lifelong wish was to meet his lifelong hero, basketball superstar LeBron James.

Folks I contacted in the sports world told me it was highly improbable that anybody could gain access to King James, even for a few seconds, especially during the playoffs.

That didn’t stop Laura Onorato.

Laura Onorato began a campaign to make the wish of a young man battling cancer come true. That wish – to meet basketball superstar LeBron James – did come true, despite the odds. (Courtesy of Laura Onorato)

“Some told me, ‘You have no idea the mountain you picked to climb,’ ” said the Albuquerque physician assistant who learned about Kyle through friends. “And I was blissfully unaware of that.”

But maybe it doesn’t matter how high that mountain is when you’re willing to keep climbing. Maybe it doesn’t matter how hard it is to reach the famous folks at the top when you’re willing to keep tweeting.

So, armed with a cellphone, her tech-savvy teenage daughter Lexie and the hashtag #KylesWish, Onorato sent her intentions out into the universe and the Twitterverse late last month and expected a miracle.

It happened last Sunday evening.

bright spotIn those first few days, Onorato had watched in amazement as her tweets blew up social media, inspiring well wishes from strangers around the country, and grabbing the attention of local journalists and Cleveland TV reporters, all of us telling the story of Kyle, a 19-year-old Volcano Vista High School senior who played basketball, adored the Cavaliers and looked forward to joining the Marines one day.

But, in April 2016, he learned that the backaches and leg numbness he had been experiencing were caused by tumors spreading through his brain and spinal cord, the nasty manifestation of a rare variant of a cancer called myxopapillary ependymoma – so rare that doctors told the Osbornes that Kyle’s is one of only four cases ever diagnosed. Despite surgery and radiation treatment, the tumors came back within five months. Aaron Osborne, Kyle’s father, said he can find no major cancer treatment center that knows how to treat the cancer.

That’s how the discussion of fulfilling Kyle’s bucket list while there is still time arose.

Meeting LeBron James was at the top of the list.

Early this month, the LeBron James Family Foundation sent Kyle a gift box filled with Cavaliers jerseys, posters, coffee mug, I Promise gel bands, a pair of James’ practice-worn shoes, a set of Beats headphones and other goodies.

A nice gesture, Onorato thought, but not enough.

“Kyle’s been dealt a (expletive) hand,” she said. “He doesn’t deserve to be given just a box.”

Jason Beudert, co-founder of the Cleveland chapter of A Special Wish Foundation, agreed.

The nonprofit charity, which has chapters across Ohio, grants wishes to youths up to age 21 with life-threatening illnesses – Make-A-Wish Foundation cuts off at 18 – and though typically the kids it serves are from Ohio, Beudert said his organization had to step in after being alerted to Kyle’s story.

“After meeting Kyle and his family, we knew we wanted to show them what Cleveland is all about,” Beudert said. “We wanted to show them the spirit of Cleveland.”

So, on a bright Saturday morning – two days after Kyle graduated from high school – Kyle, younger sister Cheyenne and their father headed to Cleveland, with plane tickets paid for with the frequent flier miles donated by another well-wisher.

At the Cleveland airport, they were greeted with signs, banners and cheers, and a TV news crew.

“It was amazing,” Kyle told me. “We felt like celebrities.”

Everything for the family – hotel room, limousine, dining at some of Cleveland’s landmark restaurants, souvenirs, even visits to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and the house where “A Christmas Story” was filmed – was donated, Beudert said.

The Cavaliers arranged for Kyle and his family to have box seats and time on the floor before the game last Sunday.

But still.

“We didn’t honestly know if Kyle was going to meet LeBron,” Onorato said. “But after all this, how could he not?”

And then it happened. Just as the Osbornes were being escorted from the floor, James strode over, leaned down to shake Kyle’s hand and smiled.

It happened so fast.

“He handed me or someone handed me a jersey. It’s signed by him,” Kyle told me of that moment. “I said, ‘It’s nice to meet you’ and stuff like that. I don’t know if he heard me.”

Osborne was given the rare opportunity to try on one of the 2016 NBA Championship rings given to the Cleveland Cavaliers. “An employee of the stadium let him look at it and put it on,” says Kyle’s father, Aaron Osborne. “I’m told that is unheard-of.” (Courtesy of Laura Onorato)

But for all the excitement of finally meeting his hero, Kyle said he knows now that the world is full of heroes and he has met quite a few of them, including the folks at A Special Wish – and Onorato.

“She’s amazing. She’s just amazing,” he said. “She keeps trying and trying, and doesn’t give up.”

The same can be said for Kyle, who began a new round of treatment almost as soon as he returned from Cleveland a week ago today.

“He’s the amazing one,” Onorato said. “He stays so positive. He keeps fighting.”

It was his strength that helped Onorato find hers.

“You know, it’s funny, because I’ve been so frustrated with politics and the whole state of affairs these days,” she said. “Helping make Kyle’s wish happen gave me a place to channel my passion and energy and positivity. I believe every one of us has it in us to do something great. You just need a special reason.”

I can’t wait to see what both of them do next.

UpFront is a regular front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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