“Preston is a huge Mavs fan and a lover of basketball,” said his mother, Rachael Pipkins. “Preston could no longer play or run, his appetite was decreasing, and he was losing weight and his lips became pale. After his last basketball game, he could only run one time across the court and nearly passed out. I took him to the emergency room because I thought it was anemia.”
Indeed, Preston was anemic, but only because he had acute myeloid leukemia, Rachael explained. The family’s entire life has been flipped upside down ever since the diagnosis.
“Preston is a great kid and deserves the world,” Rachael explained.
The young boy turned 13 during his first round of chemo on October 22. The last 54 days have been full of highs and lows, and the Mavs’ arrival on Thursday was a ray of sunshine for the new teenager.
Dallas Mavericks players Josh Green, Dwight Powell and Kemba Walker enthusiastically jumped at the chance to visit with patients at Children’s Medical Center Dallas on Thursday. They said it was the least they could do because most of these children won’t go home for the holidays.
First, the players sat down with Preston and a few other kids in a live studio that broadcasted the session to all the patients in their rooms. They discussed all kinds of topics, from sports they played to their favorite foods.
(Preston said he didn’t have a favorite food, Green said steak, Walker said pizza and Powell went with lasagna).
Next, the players went into a jammed packed playroom and gave out Mavs blankets and other gifts while kids played video games, drew basketball photos and put puzzles together.
Children’s Medical organizers said it was the largest turnout for an event this year, crediting the youths’ love for the Dallas Mavericks.
Powell said the kids inspire him to be grateful and he sees them as superheroes.
“They were awesome,” Powell shared while smiling ear to ear. “These kids have so much energy and so much light. They remind you what it’s really all about.”
Perhaps one of the most endearing moments happened during patient room visits when a little boy swished a shot from his bed and caused the whole room to erupt in cheers.
“We had some really cool experiences and shot some hoops,” Powell explained. “One kid had a little mini hoop set up and swished one from his bed. He said his IV was pulling on him, but he made it through regardless — and one. It was really fun and awesome to see the joy in their eyes.”
Walker said he loves giving back and working with children. The new Mavs point guard has long been a staple in the NBA community.
Before joining the Mavs, he captained Team World in the Basketball Without Borders program in South Africa. The four-time NBA All-Star was nominated for the season-long 2017-18 NBA Cares Community Assist Award.
Since arriving in Dallas, he’s stepped up and joined the franchise for two holiday events this week.
“For me, it’s important because I love to give back, and I love the community,” Walker said. “These kids are going through so many different challenges (and) just seeing us can brighten their day. So if I can take a little bit of time out of my day to see these kids, along with Dwight and Josh, it’s amazing.”
It’s been a whirlwind two weeks for Walker. He went from getting a call from the Mavericks at the end of November to learning a new playbook, landing in Dallas and now getting acquainted with his new teammates and community. He jumped at the opportunity to visit the kids at the hospital on Thursday.
“It’s been great, it’s been great,” Walker said about his experience in Dallas. “The energy has been great; it’s really light. The people around here have been nothing short of amazing and really nice to me. They welcomed me with open arms, and I greatly appreciate that. It’s been great.”
Green has a younger sister around the age of many of the kids he visited Thursday, and he said it’s unimaginable what these families endure. He said spending even a bit of time with the patients was a treat.
“They’re true warriors,” Green said. “We play basketball, but they’re fighting. The stuff they do is just incredible, so to be around that motivates me, and I’m sure motivates everyone to see how spectacular these kids are.”
And speaking of spectacular, the story of Preston Pipkins and his family is far from over. After one round of chemo and 36 days in the hospital, his mom said they learned he would need a bone marrow transplant. It’s his best chance at getting better.
Preston entered the national bone marrow registry and tragically did not have a compatible match. Matching to be a blood stem cell or marrow donor is more complicated than blood type. Ethnicity matters in finding a match so more diversity is needed to help more patients find life-saving matches.
Preston needed a miracle. The family decided to test his little brother Cameron. Doctors warned that the chances for a match were very low.
During Preston’s second round of chemo, the family received an early Christmas present. Cameron was a perfect match. Little brother will soon provide life-saving stem cells to his big brother and they’ll be bonded for life.
Preston will start his third round of treatment soon and he’ll be one step closer to transplant day.
In the meantime, his mom says they will embrace each day as best possible and together they’ll celebrate all the joyful moments, like meeting the Mavericks. Preston also met Dirk Nowitzki earlier this week.
“I’ll take all the prayer warriors we can get,” Rachael said. “I want as many people as possible to know how strong Preston is to endure all things cancer-related.”
She hopes that someday soon she can bring both boys to a Mavs game. Green, Powell and Walker can’t wait to see them there, too.
Powell: “these kids are by far the heroes. It reminds me of the things that are truly important, like your family and friends and things that really matter. These kids are shining examples (for us)…they are grateful for everything that happens to them regardless of what’s happening. I think we can all be a little more grateful in everything we do daily.”