Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Local boy gets hero's welcome

By Airan Scruby, Staff Writer

A Pico Rivera boy receiving treatment in Minnesota for a rare illness and his brother were honored this week as a "Hero in the Making" by a pro sports team.

Gregory Ramsey and his younger brother, Christopher, received autographed basketballs, personalized jerseys and hearty applause from fans at a Minnesota Timberwolves game at the Target Center in Minneapolis on Monday.

"This is the first time they've been to a professional sporting event," father Darren Ramsey said. "Everything was a blur, it went so fast."

Ramsey said he and his wife, Mary, went with the boys to watch the Timberwolves warm up before the game and to meet with players. The family was then escorted to a special suite to watch the game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Gregory Ramsey, 11, has been in Minnesota for more than three months battling Fanconi anemia, a rare disorder of the blood that causes a weakened immune system, susceptibility to heavy bruising and defective bone marrow. The disease, found mostly in children, can be fatal if left untreated.

Gregory received a life-saving bone marrow transplant in December at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital and has undergone chemotherapy.

Gregory may be cleared to return home with his family this week, if test results show that the new marrow is growing and producing healthy cells, and if his body is free of infection.

It was partially because he is nearing the end of his treatment that he was chosen to attend the game, according to a Ronald McDonald House representative.

Josh Williams, manager of marketing and communications for the Ronald McDonald House where the Ramseys are staying, said the Timberwolves approached him about children who could be honored at the game on Monday night.

"Gregory's been through a lot and he's just completing his 100 days," Williams said. "Especially with them hopefully going back home soon."

Although he is improving, Gregory is still weak and had to wear a mask to protect from infection while he chatted with players and met team President Chris Wright. He also uses a wheelchair because of a hip biopsy that morning. Doctors removed a piece of bone for testing, so Gregory felt too sore to stand.

"He was pretty sore last night," Darren Ramsey said. "But the last couple of days, he's actually been feeling pretty good. And he was really into the game."

According to Timberwolves spokesman Matt Makovec, the team features a hero at every home game. Some are military heroes or volunteers, while others are fighting disease or other challenges.

After the first quarter, the boys were guided to the floor, where they were introduced over the loudspeakers.

For Gregory, being in front of the large crowd at the game was nerve wracking, but he said he liked watching the game from good seats and spending time with his family.

Christopher, 8, said he enjoyed the game and the chance to meet the players.

"I got to go on the field, and I got to shoot some hoops and we got to go to the suite that has lots of popcorn and cookies," Christopher said.
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