D.J. Kuras gets back in the game
D.J. Kuras shakes a lock of blonde hair out of his eyes as he concentrates on the ball coming his way down the soccer field.
Oblivious of the biting April wind and unafraid of the players twice his size barreling toward the goal, D.J. darts out to meet the ball, weaving through players as he deftly steals the ball from his opponents.
On the sidelines, D.J.’s family and friends cheer, perhaps unusually loud for what is a simple maneuver. But D.J.’s fans are not just celebrating the game, they are rejoicing over D.J.’s determination to never give up, no matter how high the odds are stacked against him.
The 14-year-old Eden resident has been fighting for his life for as long as he can remember. Born with a rare kidney disease, D.J. received a kidney transplant at age 12. Yet his body soon began to reject the new organ, placing D.J. again in peril.
For the first time in several months, D.J. has been well enough to return to the soccer field, a goal he promised to uphold since he was forced to quit after he began to reject the transplant.
“It was amazing!” D.J. yelled after he came off the field. “I haven’t been able to play since modified soccer (in September 2011), and I didn’t even really play then, I only played two games.”
When The Sun first reported on D.J. in its Dec. 22, 2011 issue, he was undergoing treatment known as photopheresis. The process, which D.J. continues to endure today, involves removing the blood from his body and treating his white blood cells with ultraviolet rays before returning the blood to his system.
While his life is still full of doctors and hospitals, D.J. tries to be a normal teenager as much as possible.
“He gets down at times because he is not in school enough, not with his friends and not playing (school) sports,” said D.J.’s mother, Cheryle Kuras. “What helps is he is assisting coaching the (Eden Jr.-Sr. High School) modified boys lacrosse team.” She added that D.J. is proud because under his watch the team is playing better and scoring more than it did last season.
Due to the fact that D.J. is still not allowed to participate in gym class, state requirements forbid him to play on any after school sports team. But that did not stop D.J. from playing on a league not affiliated with his school.
The visiting nurse bandaged the port in D.J.’s chest with extra padding the morning of the game, and D.J. bought a special protective vest to guard his kidney while on the field.
Even while she watched D.J. take a few hits during the game, Cheryle maintained she was not nervous about D.J. playing a contact sport again.
“I would rather see him out there playing, being happy, than be one of those moms who keeps her kid in a bubble,” she said. Cheryle added that with the amount of protection D.J. wears on the field, his doctors told him it would be no more dangerous to play soccer than it is driving to and from the hospital for treatment. “He’s getting to be a kid again,” she said.
D.J.’s chance to get his cleats dirty once more has been nothing short of a miracle for the Kuras family, who has had many close calls during D.J.’s recovery.
“I cried all day just thinking about it,” Cheryle said in regards to D.J.’s return to the field. “I announced in church that he was playing today and everyone was crying, too.”
Those who know D.J. cannot help but feel inspired by his sense of humor and positive attitude.
“He taught me how to never give up,” said Sam Gaglione, D.J.’s fellow teammate and long time friend.
On the field, D.J. is a force to be reckoned with. His name is repeatedly called out by his teammates, in search of direction, as well as by his opponents, who warn each other that D.J. is the one to “watch out for.”
“They look to him for guidance,” Cheryle said, her pride made obvious by the wide smile on her face.
D.J.’s coach, Dave Gaglione, agreed. “The kids on the team respond to him,” he said. “It’s great to have him out there. He’s that kid.”
Gaglione said that D.J. is an astute player, always using his skills to the best of his ability and giving all of his effort.
“You constantly see his brain working. He uses his judgement and does a great job of listening.”
This July, D.J. will have a biopsy to determine if his body has stopped rejecting his kidney. If the treatment has proved successful, he will hopefully no longer require photopheresis or the port in his chest.
For now, D.J. is content with returning to the field with his friends. He said his goals for the soccer season is to get an assist, score a goal and, he added with a mischievous grin, earn a yellow penalty card.
Out on the field, in a sea of blue uniforms, it is at times hard to pick D.J. out from the rest of his teammates. This is a good thing. Running alongside the rest of the players, he finally gets to be a normal kid.