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Experimental Leukemia Drug Proves a Slam Dunk
Date:9/23/2010

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Sept. 23 (HealthDay News) -- It was August 2004, and 24-year-old Ray Johnston was living his boyhood dream.

He'd just been plucked from his life as a mortgage broker and plunked down on the courts of the National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks' summer training camp after catching a talent scout's eye at a local tournament.

But a small on-court collision with another player led to what Johnston thought would be a routine surgery. Following the surgery, the bleeding wouldn't stop, however.

The next thing Johnston knew, people were discussing George W. Bush's re-election victory and the Boston Red Sox' first World Series win in 86 years.

Johnston had been in a coma for more than two months.

Time wasn't all that he'd lost. When he awoke, he also found out he'd been diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, a rare form of blood cancer that strikes about 1,500 people a year, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

"The odds of me making the Mavericks are about the same as the odds of getting this disease," Johnston said during a recent interview.

But Johnston had defied the odds all his life, and he wasn't about to quit.

A native of Montgomery, Ala., he'd made his high school varsity basketball team as an eighth grader, and later earned a slot as a backup point guard as a "walk on" at the University of Alabama.

"He is the ultimate warrior," Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks who considers Johnston one of his few heroes, told the Dallas Observer. "He never is afraid of the fight, and no matter how difficult, he finds the bright side."

When the 6-foot, 3-inch Johnston was diagnosed with the leukemia, the disease had invaded about 84 percent of his body. Because he was going into shock, doctors placed him in a drug-induced coma to help give his body time to heal. While in the com
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