While most children on Christmas Eve are hoping that Santa will bring them their favorite toy, video game, electronic device, book, or even a puppy, 8-year-old Jakobe (Kobe) Kai Washington is wishing for just one thing: a bone marrow donor who would save his life.
Diagnosed with T-lymphoblastic leukemia in August, Kobe has been going through challenges he’s never faced on the ball field when he was a right-fielder and pitcher for the Kangaroo Court Baseball Club, a Tampa Bay based travel ball organization. He’s also been on a Little League team.
The Sallie Jones Elementary student with the great big smile, has been in gifted classes since he was in kindergarten, his mother, Imeria Price, said, adding, “He’s a pretty smart kid.”
Jordan said that their son “wants to be an aerospace engineer,” and Imeria added that while most kids want to be an astronaut, Kobe said that he “wants to build a spaceship.”
Kobe’s favorite activities are building STEM and LEGO projects, Imeria said.
The future was looking very bright for Kobe, until one day in August when his parents noticed that he just wasn’t himself.
He had a low energy level, and “spots popped up on his body,” Imeria said. She and Jordan brought their son to Sarasota Memorial Hospital in North Port. “We didn’t expect anything major,” Imeria said.
But blood tests revealed that Kobe’s white cell blood count was very high, she continued. The doctor initially wanted Kobe transported to the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg by ambulance, but then the medical staff decided that Kobe would have to be taken there immediately, and a helicopter transport was arranged.
That helicopter ride cost $50,000, Imeria said, and she’s received the bill for that entire amount, as Kobe had no health insurance at the time of his diagnosis.
Imeria and Jordan drove to St. Pete, and they wound up taking turns being there for about a month. After the diagnosis of T-lymphoblastic leukemia was made, Kobe began to undergo a barrage of treatments.
First, he had emergency surgery for a central line/port to receive a plasma exchange and dialysis, according to his GoFundMe Facebook page set up by James Coble, a good friend of the family and part of the Kangaroo Court organization.
Next, a peripheral line was placed up Kobe’s arm and to his chest to receive chemotherapy. After that, Kobe was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit for his first 28-day cycle of chemotherapy.
After the family came home, Imeria decided that she would have to quit her job at Sarasota Memorial, as she was attending nursing school from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., and during the day she needed to be with her son and transport him to his treatments. Jordan, who managed to keep his job, nevertheless lost days when he would drive Kobe four to five times a week to St. Petersburg and back, for chemo. In addition, the couple have two more children: Kailyn, 5, and Kaison, 2. To say that the family’s plate is full, would be an understatement.
The toll their son’s illness took on Imeria and Jordan is incalculable.
“You can’t even believe it,” Jordan answered when asked how frenetic the family’s lives have become.
One time Jordan even slept in his car in St. Pete, not wanting to leave when Kobe had to be admitted for some complication, such as a fever, Imeria said.
After multiple rounds of chemo, Kobe was about to enter the next cycle of his treatment regimen, but, “a biopsy revealed that there was still a presence of leukemic cells in Kobe’s bone marrow,” Imeria said.
The progress that the family thought was being made, pushed back recovery for the boy. Then, doctors said that a bone marrow transplant, also called a stem cell transplant, was the last option for Kobe. But a donor would have to be found.
For now, Kobe is home; he came back to Punta Gorda on Tuesday.
“We are praying that he’s home for Christmas,” said Imeria.
She and Jordan are worried about the fungal infection that doctors have discovered in Kobe’s lungs. They just want Kobe to be comfortable in his own bed for a while, before heading back to All Children’s Hospital for further treatment.
Visiting the family on Wednesday, it was difficult to believe that Kobe had gone through so much. He smiled for the camera, and smiled even more when his sister Kailyn hugged him.
Earlier, Jordan said that the chemotherapy treatments have left Kobe “very weak, fatigued and nauseous.”
But he added, “Kobe’s a fighter.”
The theme of Kobe fighting his illness appears on his family’s matching T-shirts. His siblings’ shirts are imprinted with, “My brother’s fight is my fight,” and Kobe and his parents wear shirts bearing “Kobe Strong.”
The family lives in idyllic setting; Jordan and Imeria created a virtual Shangri-la for their children. They breed exotic South African roosters and hens, they own pigs and there’s even a cow on their property that’s in the outskirts of the city. One could almost say that they have a perfect life ... if it weren’t for Kobe’s illness.
Imeria Price and Jordan Washington are Charlotte High School alumni, and they are pleading with the public to drive to the Charlotte Sports Park at 2300 El Jobean Road (State Road 776) between 10 a.m. and noon Thursday to have their cheek swabbed to see if they would be a match for Kobe.
“Please, give my son the gift of life,” Imeria said, in an emotional plea to anyone out there who could be a potential match.
To show your support for Kobe, text Kobe to 61474.
The National Marrow Donor Program is holding the Be The Match event for Kobe. The Be The Match Registry is a community of donors, volunteers, health care professionals and researchers who deliver cures by helping patients get the life-saving blood stem cell transplant they need.
Debiann McIntosh s a community engagement specialist with the Icla da Silva Foundation, Inc., a recruitment center for the Be The Match Registry. Her job is to go out into communities to help a patient find a donor, and to have people sign up for the registry. She has been leading Kobe’s campaign to find a match for the boy, and she will be at Thursday’s event.
Being a lifesaving donor is rather simple, McIntosh said. Once a match is made, the donor would receive one shot a day for five days, in a local lab. The shots would multiply the donor’s own stem cells. Then, the donor would give blood, also at a local facility. The donor’s blood would be returned, but extracted would be stem cells.
“Our body naturally makes more stem cells,” she said, so the stem cells would be replenished.
Donors must be 18 or older; the ideal age range is 18 to 44, but donors could be older, McIntosh added.
The cost to donate is free; the registry covers the cost which is $100 per donor.
Currently there are 14,000 patients awaiting a bone marrow transplant. McIntosh said that she joined Be The Match after her own mother died nine years ago, awaiting a transplant that never came.
Race and ethnicity is a factor in being a match. African-Americans, like Kobe, stand a 23% chance of finding a match, but when McIntosh’s mother needed one, her odds were just 16%.
However, Caucasians could also be a match for an African-American patient, said McIntosh, so all are encouraged to turn out on Dec. 24 and help Kobe find his match.