Hoop Dreams: Cancer Patient’s Wish Realized

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KP Santa Clara staff went beyond providing great service by making his basketball dream a reality. Pictured above: Paul and Joel Santos (right) meet with Paul’s longtime physician Jason Snitzer and Childlife Specialist Wendy Celaya before the game.

The Warriors didn’t win the game, but for Paul Santos, a 14-year-old Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara cancer patient and a lifelong basketball fan, attending the NBA Finals game recently was a dream come true.

Paul was a typical Silicon Valley child focused on school and playing basketball before his cancer diagnosis two years ago. He’s been getting care at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center since then.

He always dreamed of seeing a game with his basketball idol LeBron James of the Cavaliers.

“I started liking him when I was younger, and I guess I never stopped,” Paul said.

On Sunday, June 7, Santos attended his first NBA game in Oakland — no less than Game 2 of the finals between the Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors — and saw his idol in action, thanks to Kaiser Permanente and the National Basketball Association.

“Paul’s really a wonderful patient, kind of part of our family in hospital Pediatrics,” said Wendy Celaya, a Kaiser Permanente childlife specialist who kick-started the work to grant Paul’s wish. At Kaiser Permanente, childlife specialists are child development experts who work to ensure that life remains as normal as possible for children in health care settings.

Paul suffers from acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive form of cancer, and had to go through multiple rounds of chemotherapy, Celaya said. Each round put Paul in the hospital for a month or more.

“Unfortunately, he relapsed after finishing treatment initially and had to undergo treatment again until he was ready to go for a bone marrow transplant,” Celaya said. “For all that he’s been through here, Paul never complained, never stopped smiling and being cheerful.”

Paul did undergo a bone marrow transplant and is now being monitored closely to make sure the transplanted marrow is functioning well.

KP Made Paul’s Wish Come True

Celaya knew of Paul’s wish and contacted Kaiser Permanente Northern California, which is the National Basketball Association’s first health care partner. Kaiser Permanente partners with the NBA to promote healthy living and co-sponsors fitness workshops for disadvantaged children.

The NBA arranged tickets, parking, and safe seating for Paul and his dad, as Paul is still recovering from his bone marrow transplant.

Wendy Celaya, a childlife specialist at KP Santa Clara, gives Paul a hug before the game.

Before heading to the game, Paul and his dad stopped by Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara to pick up passes and documents. At the hospital on Sunday, Paul was greeted by familiar smiles and warm hugs by nurses and doctors who had cared for him over the past two years.

“I’m a very simple man,” said Paul’s dad, Joel Santos, as he fought back tears. “I’m so grateful to Kaiser Permanente for my son’s life and this gift.”

Describing the experience the following day, a very happy Paul said it was all “beyond my wildest dreams.”

“We had great seats, and I could really see LeBron play.”

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