MILWAUKEE — From the beginning, it has been an uphill battle for 13-year-old Joshua Biyoyouwei, who has sickle cell anemia. But with some help from Milwaukee Bucks point guard Jrue Holiday, things might be getting better.
"He doesn’t even walk much, you know. He uses a wheelchair for everything, just about," his mom, Vera Johnson, said.
Despite all the challenges with a blood disease that can severely damage one's organs and nerves, Joshua hasn't stopped his smile from stretching from cheek to cheek. He said it's "stronger and healthier" than ever.
Which makes times like these all the more difficult. For the past seven years, his doctors have said Joshua needs to get a blood transplant versus frequent infusions.
"We are trying to avoid everything we can for quality of life for him," his mom said of avoiding unnecessary surgery and side effects from too many blood transfusions.
The transfusions inject lots of iron into his body, which if given too much, can be damaging to his body.
That's why he needs a transplant. It would cure him of his sickle cell anemia by essentially exchanging his sickle cell blood cells with healthy ones. A transfusion only offers a temporary reprise. Joshua has been getting blood transfusions every month since he was born.
Joshua, who lives near Atlanta, hasn't found a bone marrow donor match yet, and that's where Bucks star Jrue Holiday comes in to help.
Not only did Joshua get to meet the former NBA All-Star over Zoom, Jrue invited Joshua's entire family to the Bucks vs. Hawks game in Atlanta.
“Just even looking at you now, man. You seem like you’re super strong," Jrue said to him while video chatting.
However, the Buck doesn't stop there. The Milwaukee point guard is also using his platform to help find Joshua a match. On his Instagram page, he made a post asking people to sign up for a cheek swab test that would identify if they are a match for Joshua or anyone else with a life-threatening, yet potentially curable, blood disease.
"A cheek swab kit will be mailed to your home – and you’ll only be called to donate if you are identified as a potential match for a patient battling blood cancer like leukemia or a deadly blood disease like sickle cell. It may be April but MATCH Madness continues. Let’s help save Black lives," the post said.
Jrue is a big supporter of getting people to sign up for tests that determine someone's ability to donate bone marrow or blood.
This is something that doesn't affect everyone the same. According to Be The Match website, white people battling a blood disease have a 77 percent chance of finding a match based on ethnic background, compared to only 23 percent of Black people. Be The Match helps pair patients with blood diseases to a life-saving donor.
They shared this cool moment together over Zoom 💪 pic.twitter.com/6QwewIY1Hi— James Groh (@JamesGroh_) April 27, 2021
Anyone ages 18-44 years old can sign up for the test by texting Jrue to 61474 (not case sensitive) or clicking this link, and Be The Match will mail a cheek swab kit to their home.
Joshua is a huge basketball and football fan, which is why it was all the more special that he got to talk with the Bucks point guard. He also plays a lot of NBA 2K, a basketball video game, but doesn't plan on playing as the Bucks just because he got to meet Jrue Holiday.
While it has been tough, Josh is no stranger to hardship. When he was 12 months old, he had his spleen taken out. Just six months later, he had a sickle cell-related stroke that gave him partial paralysis of his left side. He said it's his strong will that keeps him going. Plus his dream, "I want to be in the NBA" and to play for the Lakers, he said.
He said he will use that strength to continue fighting in hopes that a match will be made.
You can help by going to Be The Match and ordering an at-home cheek swab test kit. Once you send the sample back, they will contact you about the next steps towards making a donation.