NEWS HEADLINES

One of the boys

By Erika Pedroza | Published Saturday, September 22, 2012

HONORARY TEAM MEMBER – Boyd football players (from left) Cole Meador, Michael Partin, Blake McDonald and Adrian Nelson walk onto the field with 5-year-old Gabrial Latham prior to their game against Godley Sept. 14. The team draws inspiration from the youngster, who is fighting neuroblastoma. Messenger photo by Kelly Guess

When the Boyd Yellowjackets football team adopted 5-year-old Gabrial Latham as an honorary member of the team last year, it wasn’t just for that season.

The teenage boys embraced the young fighter for a lifetime.

PART OF THE TEAM – Gabrial Latham joins the Boyd Yellowjackets football team on the sidelines Sept. 14. At every game he attends, Latham runs through the tunnel and stands with the team during the national anthem and throughout the game. Messenger photo by Kelly Guess

“Whenever we adopted him to the team, we adopted him into our hearts forever,” said Boyd High School senior Michael Partin, whose dad James graduated from BHS with Gabrial’s dad Ryan in 1991. “He is going through something that no little kid should go through. I felt like he could look up to the team to be there for him.”

They were, and they are.

Gabrial was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a malignant tumor that develops from nerve tissue, at 23 months. Last season, the team presented Gabrial with a jersey and helmet. At every game he attends, Gabrial runs through the tunnel with his “football friends” and stands with them during the national anthem and on the sidelines throughout the game.

“He loves it,” said Ryan, a Boyd native who now lives in Lewisville. “He has so much fun and gets excited to see the football players again. It has such a positive impact on him.”

It gives him strength as he prepares for the last few rounds in a 12-month chemotherapy treatment at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, his family said.

“Every treatment we’ve done has been experimental,” his mother, Kimberly, said. “There is no cure for what Gabrial is fighting. We’re doing a hit-and-miss type of thing. After we’re done with this treatment in November, we’ll sit with a team of doctors and see what our best option is. There are several ways we can go.”

“He may have to have another stem-cell transplant or bone-marrow transplant,” his father added. “We try to probe the doctors, but they’re not really forthcoming with what’s going to happen next. They tend to wait. There are so many different options as protocols open and close all the time.

“But for now, he’s doing great.”

HEART OF THE ‘JACKETS – Gabrial Latham stands with his “football friends” during the National Anthem Sept. 14. When football players begin slapping each other’s shoulder pads, Gabrial taps his own chest. Messenger photo by Kelly Guess

GABRIAL’S FIGHT

Gabrial was born July 6, 2007. Leading up to his second birthday, he battled a series of sinus infections. In June 2009, the Lathams took their sick son to the emergency room in Lewisville.

At first they believed he was anemic and sent him to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas for treatment. Once there, that diagnosis changed. Gabrial had a mass the size of his father’s fist in his stomach, along with tumors in his chest, groin and behind his eyes. The cancer also had infected his bone marrow.

The cancer was stage 4. Gabrial underwent chemotherapy, a stem-cell transplant and also became the first child at Children’s to undergo immunotherapy.

After the series of treatments, he went into remission. By the end of 2010 doctors told the Lathams there was no evidence of the disease.

He still had to get body scans every three months, and in April the family received news that just nine months after going into remission the cancer was back, a dime-size tumor in his right sinus cavity.

That was when he began the current 12-month protocol.

“There is no growth, no movement, no new tumors,” his mother said. “But the treatment is not actually removing the cancer.”

BOYD FANS – Gabrial Latham and his father, Ryan, attend as many Boyd football games as they can between Ryan’s work and school schedule and Gabrial’s chemotherapy schedule. Messenger photo by Kelly Guess

GABRIAL NOW

Despite the battle he fights, Gabrial’s resilience and “infectious” personality prevail.

“Right now, you can’t tell that he’s got cancer,” Ryan said. “It does not affect him as much as it did when we found out he had cancer when he was 2 years old. The chemo right now is so low-impact. He hasn’t lost his hair or anything like that.”

Gabrial even started kindergarten at Lewisville Elementary this fall. And despite some accommodations, he is immersed in “normalcy.”

“He misses six days a month for chemotherapy and some time out of class to see the therapists,” his mother said. “And he gets pretty bad migraines from the treatment and tumor, and massive nosebleeds are not abnormal. And he is hypoglycemic and has to eat every two hours. But we try to keep things as normal for him as possible. That’s something his dad and I really push.”

“He comes home with ‘perfect grades’ … The teacher has no problems with him. He’s always willing to help,” his dad added. “He enjoys it.”

Perhaps as much as he enjoys being with his selfless “football friends” – a notion that elicits pride and inspiration from those who witness it, most notably his parents.

“It gives me a lot of pride that those young men step up like that,” Ryan said. “It makes me very proud to be from a small town … I can’t put it into words.”

“These teen boys who should be thinking about school or girls or cars rallied around and took Gabrial in and made him feel special and loved,” his mother added. “It touches my heart. It goes to show that there are really good people in the world.

“And it’s inspiring seeing him in that ‘Jackets uniform,” she added. “Maybe one day he can be there.”

For now, Gabrial takes to the field in the hearts of the Yellowjacket football team.

“He gave us something to fight for,” Partin said. “He may never get the chance to play football, so we are playing for him.”

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