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SA boy using dad's life-saving gift to continue pursuing his basketball dreams

Steele HS freshman defeats life-threatening disease with love for basketball


SAN ANTONIO – When Demitri Booker was 12-years-old, his basketball dreams were crushed when he first started experiencing painful symptoms caused by a rare, life-threatening disease of the blood.

Booker’s symptoms occurred just after he began playing basketball at a high-level of competition during 6th grade with an amateur sports organization team in Arkansas.

“It was before our second game of the day and I was feeling like I couldn’t breathe, I felt like I was about to pass out,” Booker said. “My parents took me to the ER (where) the doctor checked my hemoglobin and said it was abnormally low.”

After receiving two blood transfusions in 2015, Booker, however, was not diagnosed with the disease known as paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, or PNH, until March 2016.

Months later, Dimitri’s parents Lissette and Demetrius Booker received their U.S. Air Force permanent change of station orders from Arkansas to San Antonio, where they learned by doctors at the San Antonio Military Medical Center that their son was going into premature bone marrow failure.

“They said my white blood cells were going down … the producer of my bloodstream was basically failing. So I went through five rounds of chemo (and) two full body of radiation while I was there (at Methodist Children’s Hospital),” Booker said.

Lissette Booker told KSAT.com that because their son was in need of a bone marrow transplant, they had hoped to receive one through the national and foreign registry.

But despite months of waiting and unable to find a 100-percent match for Demitri, her husband was tested as a half match to become his son’s donor.

 

On Nov. 2, 2016, Demitri received a bone marrow transplant from his father, causing him to miss the entire 8th grade at Dobie Middle School of the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District.

However, missing his last year of junior high was the least of Booker’s worries. 

“I was crying because they (doctors) said basketball would no longer be an option for me. That’s what struck me hard,” he said. “They said if I played basketball again, I could die and stuff but I didn’t care about. I just want to play basketball.”

Fueled by love and passion for the game, Booker not only was finally able to attend school again at SCUISD’s Byron P. Steele II High School but also completely capable of trying out for the school’s basketball team in the fall of 2017.

Despite not making the team this year, head freshman basketball coach Jay Butler told KSAT.com because of Booker’s strong dedication for the sport, he brought him on as the team’s manager not knowing of Demitri’s background.

Butler said it wasn’t until the middle of the season when Booker informed him of his journey.

“When he told me that story, I (felt) extremely blessed that he would share it with me because that’s not something that everyone talks about. But with his fighting spirit, he takes it with stride and shares his story, not as a ‘look at me moment’ but ‘this is who I am’ and the fighter that he is,” Butler told KSAT.com. 

Butler said shortly after hearing about Booker’s life adversity, he came up with the decision to play him during the last game of the season.

And while Demitri's story may have played a little part in that decision, Butler told KSAT.com the choice was more than anything “about the effort that he put in at practices and not just doing his manager job, but also getting into drills and getting better.”

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During the last game of the season on Tuesday against rival Clemens High School, Booker stepped onto the hardwood as a basketball player for the first time in nearly three years. 

After nerves were calmed and his mind was cleared from the endless “we want Demitri” chants coming from the stands, Booker ended the game as the team’s leading scorer with 8 points along with several rebounds and steals. 

Raised onto his teammates' shoulders shortly after the final buzzer, Booker was seen in a video shared by Steele’s Principal Jana Cervantes being carried off as countless “MVP” shouts echoed through the gymnasium.

Booker said it was a special moment he’s glad his parents got to experience who were in the stands, especially for his father Demetrius.

“My mom knew how dear basketball was to my heart … she was crying that day and gave me a big hug. My dad was happy (for me) … he put his life on the line just so he could help me, help me survive,” Booker said. “That (game) was his. That was for him.” 

In November 2017, at his one-year mark of receiving his bone marrow transplant, Booker celebrated being PNH-free holding onto 100 percent of his donor cells.

SAN ANTONIO STORY IDEAS & TIPS, EMAIL: agarcia@ksat.com


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