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Basketball, St. Jude get patient back on the court

Patient's speech at NBA Summer league kicked off 2010-11 Hoops for St. Jude program

St. Jude patient Tommie with NBA player Steve Blake

St. Jude patient Tommie with NBA player Steve Blake at the Hoops
for St. Jude
NBA Summer League Dinner in Las Vegas, Nevada.


St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital may have been what saved Tommie’s life, but it was the dribbling, driving, shooting and scoring of basketball—the game that the 17-year-old loves—that has been a primary motivator in his recovery from his battle with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

In 2006, flu-like symptoms and bruising prompted Tommie’s parents to take him to a doctor, beginning a journey that brought the family to St. Jude in Memphis, Tennessee.

Here, Tommie underwent treatment including a bone marrow transplant. Tommie contracted an infection and was put into an induced coma for 19 days.

“Through the grace of God, he came through that,” said his mother, Lisa. But the coma took its toll.

Tommie, who had always been active, could no longer walk. He was confined to a wheelchair and had to undergo extensive physical therapy. But slowly, Tommie began to regain his strength. Seven months after being in the coma and with treatment completed, Tommie returned home to rebuild his motor skills. For that, he turned to basketball.

Tommie had always loved basketball, and his parents had a feeling the game might be a motivator. Besides, there was another practical reason to urge their son to grab the ball: Basketballs could be cleaned easily—a godsend to a family looking to protect their son’s fragile immunity.

“With basketball, you sanitize the ball and you’re done,” said Lisa.

Tommie didn’t take much convincing. He loves the game. Tommie’s favorite team is the Chicago Bulls, and he even had a job as their ball boy. He practices basketball four days a week for three hours a day. On Sundays, he plays in a local league.

“If not for basketball, I don’t know where we’d be,” said Lisa.

In July 2010, Tommie had the opportunity to speak about St. Jude to an NBA crowd at the Hoops for St. Jude NBA Summer League Dinner in Las Vegas, Nevada.

He shared with the group of NBA players and league officials how he used basketball as a major part of his rehabilitation. “St. Jude saved my life,” said Tommie. “Basketball saved my body,” he said. Afterward, Tommie presented a fellow cancer survivor, Denver Nuggets Coach George Karl, with the St. Jude Courage in Sport Award.

“He had the opportunity to talk onstage in front of people he respects and loves about a hospital he respects and loves,” said Lisa. “It meant the world.”

Tommie’s speech kicked off the annual Hoops for St. Jude program. And this month, the NBA is celebrating Hoops for St. Jude Week March 4 – 11. During the week, the NBA will encourage fans and players to show support St. Jude in a number of different ways:

In addition, NBA coaches throughout the league will wear St. Jude lapel pins during the week in support of Coach Karl, a two-time cancer survivor, and the patients of St. Jude.

Your support during the week—and all season long—will help patients like Tommie in their battle against cancer.

Now, Tommie returns to St. Jude each year for checkups. His cancer is in remission and he’s applied to college as a Pharmacy major. He wants to help find a cure for cancer.

“When I tell you I can’t even talk about St. Jude without crying and getting chills, I mean it,” said Lisa. “They saved my son’s life.”


Find out more about Hoops for St. Jude and how you can help in the fight against childhood cancer.