Jenni Carlson: Little Javi Restrepo is still bringing out the best in people

by Jenni Carlson Published: August 13, 2009
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Look around the sports world, and it’s easy to become cynical with the me-first attitudes, the sky-high salaries and the law-breaking antics.

But all is not lost.

You’ll know that once you hear the story of Javier Restrepo.

It is a tale about a little boy and his battle with leukemia. The youngest son of the Oklahoma volleyball coach fought it for almost three years, even had it beat a time or two. But then earlier this month, the cancerous monster won.

So, you might think this is a story about heartbreak and despair, and while it is those things, it is also about something greater. Something better.

Javi, as everyone calls him, was only 2 years old when doctors diagnosed him with leukemia. His prognosis was good, though, his chance for survival was great.

His parents decided on an aggressive form of treatment — massive doses of chemotherapy.

Going after the disease was the only way that his parents knew. Santiago and Heidi, after all, have always been fighters, always faced every challenge head on. That’s what he did when he left his home in Colombia to play volleyball in the United States. Ditto for her when she went to law school.

The treatment worked on Javi, the cancer went into remission, and slowly, he recovered. His energy returned. So did his love for playing and running and roughhousing.

Then last summer, he started feeling sick. A trip to the doctor confirmed the worst fears.

The leukemia was back.

There would be more chemo, this time to kill off Javi’s bone marrow so he could have a transplant from his older brother, Diego. Everything went as planned except for one side effect — the drugs nearly destroyed Javi’s liver.

He needed a liver transplant.

The volleyball community both near and far had long been aware of Javi’s situation. Pete Wung, a longtime friend of the Restrepos, posted information on the popular volleyball internet message boards from the beginning, and people always responded with concern and support.

When he posted a note about Javi’s transplant — "We need a liver donor right away” — the volleyball world sprung into action. Registries were scoured. Parents were tested.

Perfect strangers wanted to find a donor for Javi.

Eventually, Heidi’s brother-in-law was deemed a match, and the Restrepos went to a hospital in Delaware that specializes in childhood organ transplants.

They were there for two months.

When Javi was finally released in March, the family had to drive back to Oklahoma because he was still susceptible to germs.

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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Steppin’ for Restrepo
→What: Run/walk to raise funds in memory of Javier Restrepo, the 4-year-old son of Oklahoma volleyball coach Santiago Restrepo who died after battling leukemia for almost three years

→When: 10 a.m. Saturday

→Where: Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee

→Cost: $15

→More information: www.okchargevolleyball.com

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