Student with terminal cancer dreams of meeting LeBron James

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Kyle Osborne, 19, is surrounded by friends and relatives during a recent hospitalization for complications arising from his rare form of cancer. At right is his father, Aaron Osborne. (Courtesy of Laura Onorato)

Laura Onorato warned her Twitter faithful.

“To anyone who follows me, I apologize for my flood of tweets,” she wrote. “I’m a woman on a mission.”

That mission involves a young Albuquerque man named Kyle Osborne, his basketball idol, LeBron James, and the miracle of bringing them both together.

That’s one tall miracle.

And yes, there’s an urgency to this mission, because Onorato is not sure how much time she has left to pull it off, because no one is sure how much time Kyle has left.

Kyle is 19, a 6-foot-3 guy with an endless smile who until a year ago was an active Volcano Vista High School senior playing basketball and soccer, watching Cleveland Cavaliers games and dreaming of joining the Marines.

Then came the backaches and a soreness, a numbness in his left leg.

“He’s been healthy his whole life,” said his dad, Aaron Osborne. “There was no indication this was anything more than the usual aches and pains.”

And then came the day when that leg wouldn’t move.

An MRI done April 10, 2016, revealed a startling number of tumors gathering along Kyle’s spinal cord and burrowing into his brain. Further tests confirmed that Kyle had cancer, and not just any cancer but a rare and vicious variant of myxopapillary ependymoma – so rare that doctors have told the Osbornes that Kyle is one of only four cases ever diagnosed. So rare that no hospital or oncologist specializes in its treatment.

“I’ve contacted every major cancer center and hospital in the United States, and none will take his case,” said Osborne, a single dad and a full-time pipe detailer. “They’re pretty much telling me that what Kyle’s doctors are doing here is what they recommend.”

“Here” is the University of New Mexico Hospital and the UNM Cancer Center. Weeks after his diagnosis, Kyle underwent 13½ hours of surgery there to remove the malignancies from his spinal column. Because the brain tumors are in a risky area next to the stem, doctors opted to eradicate those with 15 sessions of radiation treatment.

“Everything was removed, 110 percent,” Osborne said.

Within five months, the tumors were back.

“Typically, we’re told the tumors are extremely slow-growing, but not in Kyle’s case,” Osborne said. “That they came back so quickly completely blew the doctors’ brains.”

Kyle’s chances of survival dwindled. He was deemed terminal. He lost the use of his legs. His pain is constant. He went into hospice.

But the Osbornes refuse to give in. Kyle refuses to give up.

“He’s a fighter,” Osborne said. “He’s had a positive attitude throughout this whole thing.”

Still, Osborne said he and Kyle’s 17-year-old sister, Cheyenne, began discussing Kyle’s bucket list. What, they asked him, did he want to do above all else in life?

At the top of the list: to meet LeBron James.

“He has loved that guy all his life,” Osborne said. “He calls him Bron Bron.”

As we talked Monday, Kyle watched Bron Bron and the Cavaliers blow away the Toronto Raptors 116-105 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Two weeks ago, Onorato – an OB-GYN physician assistant and our Twitter aficionado – heard about Kyle while having dinner with nurse friends. Kyle’s stepmother had worked in the unit with them.

Although she had never met Kyle herself, Onorato couldn’t stop thinking about him and his wish. She couldn’t stop being bothered by the notion that Kyle was months past the cutoff age of 18 to have his hoop dreams granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

She couldn’t stop thinking that maybe all it takes is one person to start something that turns into a very tall miracle.

So she tweeted.

“This is Kyle,” she wrote. “He is 19 w/terminal cancer. His wish is to meet @KingJames before he dies. Please help us reach him by retweeting #KylesWish”

“And then suddenly the tweet starts to take off and my cellphone starts to go ding ding ding, and I think, wow, people have something to say about this,” she said.

With the help of her 17-year-old daughter, Lexi, Onorato continued to spread the word. A local TV news station picked up the story. A local FM radio station retweeted. On Monday, WEWS-TV in Cleveland aired the story. So far, there’s been no word from James or his people, but the tweet keeps spreading and the mission keeps going.

Onorato, who only last week got to meet Kyle, keeps her hopes up.

“It’s been exciting to see this take on a life of its own,” she said. “It will be even more exciting to see that kid get on an airplane to go see LeBron.”

As he waits for Onorato to accomplish her mission, for that tall miracle to happen, for James to answer the call, Kyle has begun a clinical trial of chemotherapy that for now has stopped the tumors from growing. He is completing his studies so he can graduate with his class May 18.

Life, for now, is good. Life, for now, goes on. And besides, the NBA playoffs are on.

UpFront is a daily 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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Kyle Osborne, 19, bears a tattoo of two ribbons the gray for brain cancer awareness, the green for cancers and other injuries of the spine. Osbornes rare variant of myxopapillary ependymoma has caused malignant tumors in both regions. (Courtesy of Michelle Garza)

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