Kyle Rodas isn't a star quarterback who might one day toss a game-winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, or even a high-school game.
Ever since his teenage body turned on him, Kyle's realized he'll never be carried off the field as the conquering hero — despite whipping a foe far scarier than the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's OK with that. Still, the Los Angeles boy would gladly settle for visiting the place Super Bowl heroes famously go, right here in our back yard: Walt Disney World.
That's Kyle's wish. Likely his last. One complicated by an earlier wish that was granted.
Kyle had barely gotten past crawling when tests showed he had contracted acute lymphoblastic leukemia, an aggressive cancer of the whiteblood cells.
Chemotherapy and radiation worked. For a while. Until the cancer came roaring back.
That started the frantic search for a bone-marrow donor. A transplant was Kyle's best shot for an enduring remission. But a long shot. Bone marrow is matched by certain tissue traits, particularly ethnicities. In 1999, Hispanics like Kyle made up just 5 percent of potential donors on the National Marrow Donor Program's registry.
Without a transplant, doctors gave him a 5 percent shot at survival.
To save her only son, Marty Valle made public donor appeals. She found a tireless ally in Angelita Rovero-Herrera, who worked for the American Red Cross Marrow Donor Program and organized marrow-testing drives. At each, Marty prayed for a match.
Kyle's parents knew the odds. Hated them. A million to one.
The enormity of their trip to Disneyland in April 1999 — made possible by Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles — wasn't lost on them. It was the trip of a lifetime.
Futility left his parents with an unbearable decision.
Try a dicey partial match. Risk painful experimental treatments. Or leave it to Providence.
They enrolled Kyle in preschool and never looked back.
He took martial arts. Played Pop Warner football. And licked leukemia.
Last year, he entered high school. Headaches sidelined plans to try out for the Arleta High School football team. Then his hand went numb. And a thumb.
"Doctors found a spot," Oscar Rodas told his wife over the phone. "In his head."
More tests, more spots. Four in all.
Word of Kyle's brain cancer came 13 years to the day that they had learned of his leukemia.
"My son, of course, cried," Valle recalls. "He hugged us, and said, 'Let's see what it is, and can we treat it.'"
A neurologist's opinion: Surgery was reckless. Chemo was a crapshoot.
"He said, I don't want to die in pain," Valle says.
Even as the cancer eroded his speech, vision and movement, Kyle's personality was unaffected. At Christmas, he persuaded his parents to throw a party. For the kids at his oncology clinic.
Before his speech lapsed, Kyle shared his ultimate wish: Disney World in Orlando.
So, his parents again contacted Make-A-Wish, which had earlier sent their boy to Disneyland in Anaheim.
Its policy: one wish per child. Organizations in the wish-granting business understandably want to spread the altruism around.
The good fortune of outliving his early prognosis means Kyle doesn't get another wish later in life.
"We completely understand," says Valle, 39. "Who would have thought that years later my son would have ended up with a different kind of cancer?"
Still, his parents promised Kyle they'd try to make Disney World happen.
Kyle is now under hospice care. He would require a medical transport to travel to Orlando.
Only Valle, an office clerk, is working these days. Rodas, 35, a Realtor in a slack market, tends to Kyle and his baby sister, Coee, 2. Friends and family help with groceries and gas money, at times.
Rovero-Herrera's back at it, though, chasing donations to cover the trip.
But Valle's telling Kyle — battling to see his 15th birthday in July — that he "must understand that sometimes promises unintentionally may not be kept."
An invaluable but bitter lesson that Kyle will take to the grave.
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