SALT LAKE CITY — Hayden Blonquistappeared to be a typical teenager.
From the outside looking in, he’s tall, athletic, handsome and appeared to be fully healthy.
At North Summit High School, he was extremely active, starring in varsity basketball, wrestling, rodeo and numerous other school-related activities throughout his junior year.
That was until his world came crashing down after learning he was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) in February.
Immediately afterward, he was admitted into the Primary Children's Hospital and is currently undergoing treatment during his senior year of high school.
“Still trying to graduate,” said Blonquist, who averaged 15.7 points and 7.8 rebounds last season for North Summit in 18 games. “Right now, I’m going about once a week.”
His mother, Christiane; younger brothers, Karson and Heston; plus other relatives and members from the community have helped the 17-year-old stay strong while battling the disease.
Now they can add Utah Jazz big man Derrick Favors to that list.
Ahead of Saturday’s preseason game against the Perth Wildcats, Favors surprised Blonquist and his family with a pregame meet-and-greet on behalf of the Ronald McDonald House. He signed autographs and snapped pictures.
“We have certain people that go through certain situations in their life and sometimes they can’t control it,” Favors said. “So maybe if it’s just me saying ‘Hello’ to him or ‘What’s up’ to him, and him coming out on the court and shaking his hand or me talking to him on the court for a little while, maybe that’ll brighten up his day or what he’s going through.”
Utah Jazz big man Derrick Favors surprises 17-year-old, former North Summit hoops standout Hayden Blonquist ahead of the Perth preseason game. @hblonquist5 is currently battling leukemia. pic.twitter.com/SwRj4yyNsr— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) September 29, 2018
Favors’ charitable act was orchestrated through the Ronald McDonald House’s Honorary Grandparent Fund. The fund is set up for children with life-altering or life-limiting diagnoses, such as Blonquist, to create special memorable experiences together with their families.
“This shows that Derrick is a very compassionate and caring person,” Christiane said. “They’re busy and for him to set time aside to offer that, I think its very kind.”
Favors signed on to become an ambassador for the Salt Lake City-based charity in 2015 to help raise money and awareness for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Intermountain Area. He has also visited the building, donated tickets, money, gifts and time to the cause, plus participated in public service announcements and commercials for the nonprofit organization.
“This day is special as Hayden absolutely loves basketball and the Utah Jazz,” said Carrie Romano, Chief Executive Offer of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Intermountain Area.
“These family experiences are especially meaningful as time becomes very precious and day-to-day life isn’t routine anymore because of an unforeseen medical diagnosis and the challenging health issues of a child,” she continued.
Hayden certainly won’t forget the experience anytime soon.
He will continue to undergo treatment once a week for the next couple months before starting monthly sessions for two additional years. One side effect of those treatments is osteonecrosis, which causes his bone tissue to die faster, so his hoop dreams are derailed because of his brittle bones. He still goes to the gym occasionally and watches when he can, but his weight has dipped from 190 pounds to about 165. Although the experience is frustrating at times, he chooses to focus on the positive.
“It’s way cool,” said Hayden. “You don’t get these opportunities a lot and, unfortunately, I had to get cancer, but everything that happens something good comes out of it, and this is one of them.
“This really does mean a lot.”