BEAVERTON, OR (KPTV) - Angel Santiago, AJ to his teammates and friends, is back to battling for playing time as linebacker and running back for his senior season at Valley Catholic High School.
“I finally feel like in a sense, normal,” Santiago said.
Normal is a great place to be after sophomore year delivered a devastating blow to Santiago.
“I just started developing these symptoms of sores in my mouth, spots on my feet,” he said.
The prognosis was aplastic anemia.
“It’s a bone disease and blood platelet disease so it's a tough thing to deal with,” best fried William Weber said.
None of it was easy, physically or mentally.
But AJ is a tough kid.
“He never ever complained the whole time he was in the hospital, the only one thing he said was, ‘Michael this hurts’ and that was going through chemo,” Michael Weber said.
The Weber twins, William and Michael, AJ's best friends since second grade in Scappoose, were there to light up his room during a lengthy stay at Doernbecher Children's Hospital illuminating the good they'd had and would have again.
“In those dark days you just have to see the positive side of things and be optimistic,” Santiago said.
Michael and William showed their solidarity by shaving their heads when AJ lost his hair during chemo.
“He thanked us and you could just tell he had a lot of gratitude and that meant a lot for him,” William said.
Thankfully, AJ's older sister Mariela, a student at Oregon State, was a match for a bone marrow transplant.
“I am extremely lucky. It's 25% match and I had no idea that it was going to work out,” Santiago said.
It certainly did work after being on the sidelines without pads post-treatment a season ago, Santiago is now fully strapped back in for his last run in high school, a resilient valiant.
“I tell this team all of the time, if you’re playing for something bigger than yourself. The hard stuff is so much easier to get through,” Coach Nick Hegwood said.
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