SANTA FE, N.M. — Isiah Lovato’s family noticed there was a little something different about the way he played the last few basketball games of the Capital High School junior varsity season last spring.
As a sophomore, he helped the Jaguars JV go 16-4, but he didn’t look right toward the end of the season.
“He’s a great basketball player, and he has a lot of enthusiasm,” said his grandmother, Corrine Pacheco. “He’s very energetic, but toward the end, he just couldn’t push himself, he just couldn’t do it. He would turn pale. He complained of stomachaches. The last three or four games, you could tell something was going on.”
This summer, Lovato’s family found out what was going on after he was taken to a hospital with severe leg pains and a fever.
Blood tests showed he has leukemia. Also found in his bone marrow was the Philadelphia chromosome, an abnormality associated with leukemia.
That was the middle of the summer, and shortly thereafter Isiah spent more than a month at the University of New Mexico Hospital undergoing chemotherapy. Those treatments, however, were unsuccessful. He recently completed a second round of more intense treatments, Pacheco said, and he is scheduled for a third round to begin next week.
“It’s made him very sick,” she said of the treatments. “He had a reaction to one of the chemos. He’s experiencing panic attacks, seven or eight attacks a day. With the chemo, he’s had all kinds of side effects: blisters all on his mouth and his throat. He didn’t eat for eight days. They had to give him intravenous IVs for eight days. He has been very, very sick.”
That means the options are running out for the 16-year-old, Pacheco said, with bone marrow transplant next on the list.
“There’s no ifs, ands or maybes anymore for him to go to Denver for the transplant,” she said. “We’re just hoping and praying that all goes well, because he’s been through so much already.”
The big problem is there is no suitable donor currently in the nationwide system.
“Right now, we don’t have a match,” Pacheco said. “They’ve looked all over for him, but there’s no match for him. The closest is his mom, and they may go ahead with hers, but his body may reject her cells, so we have to have a backup for him.”
The family has started a bone marrow donor drive, hoping to sign up as many people as possible, starting with an event this week at the high school.
“I went to high school with his mother, so there’s a connection with the community here,” Capital assistant principal Josh Rhine said. “When I was asked if they could do a bone marrow drive, of course we said ‘yes.’ It’s the right thing to do to save a kid’s life.”
Registering for and participating in the bone marrow test is important, because it goes into a national database that could help others in need, Pacheco said, even if it doesn’t directly aid Lovato.
A bone marrow transplant is a treatment that replaces unhealthy marrow with healthy marrow. To find a match, a special blood test analyzes certain proteins on the surface of white blood cells and other cells that make each person’s tissue type unique.
Isiah’s younger sister, 12-year-old Laylah Lovato, said she’s looking forward to seeing her brother healthy again.
“It’s a little bit scary, but at least he’s getting cured and helped, and being healthy and his normal personality again,” she said. “I was just scared because I didn’t think he would have cancer. I was just scared and sad.”
Isiah has tried to continue life as much as possible, Pacheco said, but a lot hasn’t been possible.
“He started taking online classes, but he couldn’t continue,” she said. “He was always sick, he couldn’t see, and we’d find him in the fetal position. He has no energy. He can’t even walk from here to there to the bathroom. He’s come really, really down. But I think by the grace of God and the faith that he has and that we all have, he’ll come out of it. He’ll be OK, but it will take a while.”
Laylah, a seventh-grader at Tierra Encantada Charter School, said she misses her brother watching her in her gymnastic meets and going to his basketball games.
“He’s great. He’s really funny. And he’s always there to support me when I’m sad and stuff,” she said. “It’s nice because he can see me do what I can do. And it was nice to watch him, because I can see what he can do, and I like seeing him be athletic and be moving.”