Matthew Weston meets aplastic anemia head-on

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Photo: Jay Ouellet

Matthew Weston, has recovered by leaps and bounds since his health scare two years ago. He was named Most Valuable Player after scoring 27 points at a friendly game against the regional All-Star High School team held on April 22, 2015. He is the nephew of QCT photographer Jay Ouellet, who took this photo at the game.

In the summers of 2010 and 2011, Matthew Weston represented Team Quebec at the Canadian National Basketball Championships in Winnipeg and Toronto. But on April 15, 2013, his 17th birthday, the young man was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare bone-marrow disease that affects about 35 Canadians per year. The past two years have been the battle of a lifetime, starting with the transplant of bone marrow donated by his older sister. 

But Matthew, now 19 and a student at Champlain-St Lawrence, was recently picked to play on the Quebec City Regional Cégep Basketball All-Star team. And on April 22 after a friendly game against the regional All-Star High School team, six-foot-three Weston scored 27 points and was voted Most Valuable Player. 

That's quite a come-back! 

The QCT recently met with this remarkably resilient young man and his mother, Hélène Guay. His father, Daniel Weston, teaches Geography and Physical Education and coaches basketball at Quebec High School, so it's easy to see how Matt developed his passion for the game. 

Matt's brothers David (24) and Peter (21) and his sister Jenny (25) were tested as possible bone-marrow donors, and Jenny proved the closest match. To make the donation, she had to travel from Germany, where she lives and teaches. Hélène said, "We were very lucky... Usually siblings have a one-in-four chance to be compatible and Jenny was the one." 

Matt entered Hôpital de l'Enfant-Jésus in January 2014 to undergo the bone-marrow transfusion, and immediately went through a very tough time. His sister was a good match but because they had different blood types, his body tried to reject the few stray blood cells remaining in the donor marrow. "The first ten days were really the worst, they gave me antibodies and really aggressive chemo, but after that mainly I was bored!!" said Matthew.       

When he was able, he got out of bed to stretch his legs and start building up his strength. After 40 days in hospital, Matt went home on March 1, 2014. Hélène took care to keep his food and home environment as germ-free as possible. Until May 2014, when his immune system had improved sufficiently, Matthew wore a surgical mask in public. 

While in hospital, with the help of a friend, Matt made a video called Unexpected Journey. "Basketball Quebec was holding a contest and the prize was a ball signed by my favourite NBA player - Toronto Raptor DeMar DeRozan. So I wrote to them [about my condition], and they sent me the ball! They knew I played for Team Quebec in the past, so they asked me to make a video they could send out to other young people with cancer." If you go to the "Basketball Quebec" Facebook page, click on Videos and you'll find "Touchant vidéo de Matthew Weston." 

Matt was keen to get fighting fit again. "Age was on my side and it helped that I'd been in good shape before [the illness]." Only a year after being diagnosed, he asked his doctor if he could play summer league basketball. Normally patients need a couple of years to get back in shape, but the doctor said, "Okay, but just be sure you disinfect the ball before you play!" 

"I spent the summer playing with my brother Peter, who also plays basketball [at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire], and training with Justin Robert at St. Lawrence. Justin and I trained four or five days a week, and played summer league games. When the school year began in September 2014, I was ready. The season went well, but I was just happy to play again because I'd missed a whole year." 

As the poster boy for the 2015 Blood Donor Clinic at Champlain-St. Lawrence, Matt spoke to his fellow students about the importance of giving blood. "We had a game on January 29," he said. "It was exactly a year after my transplant, so we had an Aplastic Anemia Awareness Night. We raised almost $1,000 for the Fondation de la Greffe de Moelle osseuse (bone-marrow transplant foundation)." 

Matthew was awarded a scholarship to study Communications this fall at York University in Toronto, after which he hopes to continue at near-by Seneca College. "Seneca has one of the best Broadcasting programs in the country, but first you need a B.A. in Communications. My dream job would be a sports broadcaster for the Toronto Raptors, like an NBA analyst. I'm looking forward to going. It should be really, really fun," said Weston. 

And of course he'll be playing basketball while he's there!!