After learning that his younger brother had been diagnosed with Leukemia, a Callaway High School student fearlessly endured endless measures to help keep him alive.
In late September of 2007, Kavon Zelaya, 14, was diagnosed with Leukemia. Before his diagnosis, his mother Sabrina said he had always been a healthy and outgoing child. Almost 9 years old, she began to observe that Kevon was always tired and complained of his joints hurting, but despite his pain, he still remained the same happy child that everyone knew.
“He was still very sociable, he just didn’t have the energy to do much,” said Sabrina.
After learning that Kavon had Leukemia, Sabrina remembered how distraught she was.
“I was hysterical at first because I thought it was uncommon in African-American males,” she said. “But I found that it’s really not.”
Kavon went through chemotherapy treatments and radiation, and later it was determined that he had to have a bone marrow transplant, which is a common procedure for Leukemia patients.
The procedure took place in January 2008 at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, with the help of his brother LaBronze Zelaya, a 16-year-old sophomore and line backer at Callaway High School. LaBronze made the decision to undergo surgery that would allow him to donate bone marrow to his little brother.
“He needed it to stay alive,” LaBronze Zelaya said. “I had to help him some kind of way.”
The doctors told the Zelayas that they could try to get bone marrow from another source, but it would be best to test a sibling or family member with the same blood type. LaBronze Zelaya made the final decision to volunteer himself for the donation procedure.
Without fear, LaBronze Zelaya went through a one day outpatient surgery that lasted almost three hours. He recalled being in pain for almost a week after surgery.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I wasn’t scared at all to do it,” he said.
LaBronze Zelaya’s bone marrow was transferred to his brother during the bone marrow transplant, and the operation was successful. The doctors told the Zelayas that once the new cells start growing, Kavon Zelaya would develop his brother’s cells, which will leave him in remission for five years, but expected the cancerous cells to come back with in a year.
Years after the surgery, in the seventh grade, Kavon Zelaya became involved in sports as a defensive tackle for Callaway Middle School. The team was undefeated that year.
In May 2011, when Kavon Zelaya went to the hospital for his yearly checkup, doctors found an abnormality of cells in his testicles during an ultrasound. It was another shock to the family and doctors, who assumed that the cancerous cells might have come back a year after the surgery.
Doctors told the Zelayas that Kavon would have to undergo more treatments and another bone marrow transplant. When the time came for the transplant, it was discovered that Kavon’s kidney levels were very low, thus delaying the transplant date several times for two months.
Once again, despite the pain, LaBronze Zelaya volunteered to undergo the surgery to donate his bone marrow to his brother in a second surgical procedure.
“I needed to do it for him. I had to look out for my brother,” he said.
“The day of his transplant he was really excited to get it done because of it being pushed back several times,” Sabrina Zelaya said of her elder son.
In November, the second transplant was performed, which would ultimately be the last. Days after the transplant, the doctors told the Zelayas that Kavon’s counts never came in and he was not able to pick up his older brother’s cells. On Dec. 5, one month later, Kavon Zelaya died in Atlanta.
Despite the failed transplant, Sabrina Zelaya praised LaBronze for his courage and bravery.
“He is our big hero,” she said. “I’m proud that he stood up and went through it all for his brother. His brother really looked up to him.”
Sabrina Zelaya described Kavon as a fun-loving kid who loved to laugh and see others laugh. He always kept a smile on his face and he would always see the bright side of things.
She said that LaBronze was one of Kavon’s biggest role models.
“I’m glad I did it,” LaBronze Zelaya said. “I’m just glad he doesn’t have to suffer anymore and we don’t have to worry about going to the doctor and them saying, ‘Oh it’s come back again.’”