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When 16-year-old Yehonatan Naidich began sensing pains in his left leg, the otherwise healthy young athlete tried to put it out of his mind. But as the pain grew more intense, he could no longer bear it. On one occasion, while on a trip to the US with his family, Yehonatan suffered an episode of pure agony while his family watched in shock. “It was incredibly hard,” remembers his father, Arthur. “He generally has a high tolerance for pain so we knew this was serious.”
Yehonatan’s parents acted quickly, consulting experts in the hopes of obtaining some answers. Blood tests revealed there was something seriously wrong but what exactly was unclear. Yehonatan was referred to the Children’s where the hematology/oncology team began exhaustive research, consulting their counterparts across the globe to see if conditions like Yehonatan’s had been previously documented.
As they awaited word on a course of action, Yehonatan’s weight dropped dramatically and he was hospitalized. They learned that the boy’s blood showed signs of an extremely rare cancer, almost never seen in someone under 50. Once a treatment was proposed the family breathed a sigh of relief. “Even if we didn’t know exactly what it was, knowing how to begin fighting it was reassuring,” recalls Yehonatan. The family also found great reassurance in Dr. David Mitchell. “He stopped at nothing for Yehonatan’s well-being,” says Tatyana, Yehonatan’s mother. “He’s our family’s hero.”
Yehonatan spent most of that summer at the Children’s. “You never want to be in a hospital, but once we were at the Children’s we entered a world that was very comforting and supportive,” remembers Tatyana. “We made friendships with staff and other families that we’ll cherish forever.”
Treatments finished just before Yehonatan’s return to school last September and he’s been improving ever since. In February he celebrated a milestone, the removal of his portacath (the catheter through which he received chemotherapy). “Since it’s been off I’ve been able to get back on the ice and practice a bit of hockey,” Yehonatan says with pride. “But I haven’t been able to play in a game yet. I still get tired very quickly so I’m taking things one step at a time.”
As a way of giving back, Yehonatan took on the role of this year’s Pedal for Kids event spokesperson. He not only fundraised for the Children’s but took the time to share his incredible story first-hand with other participants. “It was a lot of fun! People thanked me for inspiring them but really I think I got more out of the experience than I gave.”