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A Touchdown for Health

D'Jon MeekLike many high school juniors, 16-year-old D'Jon Meek has his sights set on college...and on playing football for the Cornhuskers at his "dream" school-the University of Nebraska.

He's been working toward that goal...all while overcoming acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of cancer in children. Meek was diagnosed during his freshman year in high school, when this gifted athlete played not only football, but also wrestled and ran on the track team at Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills, Ill.

Mary Lou Schmidt, MD, head of the division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, developed a treatment plan, beginning with chemotherapy and radiation treatments in March 2009. While Meek couldn't participate in sports in his sophomore year, he still supported his teammates. Football was never far from his mind.

"I had been using a portacath (a catheter connecting the port to a vein under the skin for easier drug injections), but I asked Dr. Schmidt about receiving chemo through a peripheral vein instead of the portacath," he says. "At first she said 'no,' but we talked further and we decided it would be best to take it out because she didn't want me to risk my portacath breaking while playing football. I've been receiving my chemo treatment using a peripheral vein for about a year."

That change allowed Meek to get "back in the game" literally. He played football his junior year as a running back and linebacker and ran on the track team at Hillcrest, which has garnered two state track championships.

His life goal is to play in the NFL. But first, he's working on getting into college to study engineering. This well-rounded teenager also enjoys singing with his mother, a breast cancer survivor, in the Acme Missionary Baptist Church Choir, which was voted the Best Church Choir in America in 2008.

"D'Jon is a humble, quiet, beautiful person," says Schmidt. "It was a huge joy for our team to see him fully engaged in life through school, sports, church and family." In addition to providing outstanding treatment, Schmidt was also responsible for making one of Meek's dreams come true. While he was hospitalized at the Children's Hospital University of Illinois, she arranged for Meek to meet Jarrett Payton, son of football legend Walter Payton.

"Walter Payton is my favorite football player of all time and my inspiration," says Meek. "It was great to meet his son and I enjoyed talking about football with him."

"Every time I come to treatment, Dr. Schmidt has a big smile and makes me feel like I have nothing wrong with me," he says. "It's the greatest experience. I always feel welcome and that I can talk with anyone here about anything. University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System means a lot to me.

It feels like home...with people who really support and care about me."

The Children's Hospital University of Illinois will be true to our commitment to the children of Illinois to provide compassionate, high-quality health care and be an acclaimed leader in advancing the art and science of medicine.