A family snowboarding trip to Big Bear Mountain in California took an unexpected detour before it began when Wendy Doheney noticed that her two-year old son, Keegan, woke up with an unexplained apple-sized bruise on his ribcage.
Little did the Doheneys of Thousand Oaks, California know, they were going to have to postpone that vacation for years. The family was about to begin a different journey, one that helped set the course for young Keegan’s lifelong commitment to giving back to others.
One cancer diagnosis and then another
Blood work revealed a mother’s worst nightmare, Keegan was diagnosed with leukemia. And so began the first of his two battles with cancer. The first round ended when Keegan was three after a series of chemotherapy treatments proved effective against the deadly disease.
Two-and a half years later, Keegan relapsed. The leukemia returned stronger than ever. Statistically he had only a 50% chance of survival. This time the normal course of treatments failed to control the cancer.
“Nothing was working,” according to Keegan. “The next step was a stem cell transplant.”
An almost perfect stem cell match with his little brother
The Doheney family was tested and blood typed in hopes of finding a match for Keegan. Unfortunately, neither his parents nor his older brother or sister were a match. According to Keegan, “they were complete opposites.”
This is where a combination of mother’s intuition and foresight came into play. In between Keegan’s bouts of cancer, Wendy gave birth to his little brother, Keldan. The Doheney’s chose to preserve Keldan’s newborn stem cells with Cord Blood Registry. Stem cell preservation was an exciting, new practice that was gaining popularity in 1998. Wendy was especially impressed by its life-saving potential.
As fate would have it, three-year old Keldan proved to be an almost 98% match for Keegan – which is remarkably close. The only way it could have been better would have been if Keegan’s newborn stem cells were preserved when he was born for a 100% match.
A cherished family memory from this difficult time revolves around the bravery Keldan displayed when his blood was to be drawn to establish compatibility with Keegan. According to Keegan, his father “gets all teary” whenever he recounts how his very scared youngest son cowboyed up to help save the life of his older brother.
The transplant was performed successfully at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. Keegan then spent the next seven months recovering at the nearby Ronald McDonald House. He has been cancer-free ever since.
Moving on from cancer
Being so young at the time, Keegan’s memories of his cancer treatment and long recovery are hazy. “Looking back, it was kind of a scary thing,” he reflects. “But I can’t remember a time when I was actually fearful.” “
“One of my parents was always with me in my hospital room and the team at Kaiser was great,” he continues. “I’m sure things were different behind closed doors for everyone; but what I always saw was love, support, and happiness.”
What little Keegan does remember are mostly fragments. The one standout memory is his return home. Keegan’s Oak Park neighborhood turned out in full force to welcome him back. “There were balloons, banners, and people painted signs and the driveway. Our neighbors took turns bringing dinners to the house,” Keegan remembers.
“It was kind of a big deal,” Keegan adds. “We came from a good little, tight-knit community where everyone had each other’s back.”
Giving back to the community
The Doheney’s have a long history of contributing to their community, ranging from a family tradition of military service carried on today by Keegan’s now six foot five “little” brother, to his father’s work as a district attorney and his mother’s very active role as a community volunteer.
“As I got older, I reflected more and more on all the support I received. I wanted to give back. It started in high school where I helped organize several local Relay for Life Cancer Walks as a chair member.”
While Keegan’s desire to serve his country in the Air Force was sidetracked by his complicated medical history, a strong academic streak opened another door for him. After graduating with a degree in political science from the University of California Channel Islands, he went to law school at the University of the Pacific in Sacramento. Upon graduation, Keegan began his law career as a public defender in Colorado.
Today at age 29, Keegan is a strong, healthy professional still giving back to his community, now as a deputy district attorney. His commitment to service continues in other ways, including as a cancer survivor speaking at Relay for Life events and as an advocate for newborn stem cell preservation.
World Cord Blood Day is almost here
November 15th is World Cord Blood Day 2021, a special day of live and online learning events held to commemorate the very first cord blood stem cell transplant performed in 1988. This breakthrough procedure saved the life of a young boy suffering from Fanconi Anemia. Since then, over 40,000 newborn stem cell transplants have taken place worldwide to treat over 80 different life-threatening diseases, including lymphoma, sickle cell anemia, Tay-Sachs disease, and, in Keegan’s case, leukemia.
The personal impact of World Cord Blood Day is not lost on Keegan. “Whether it’s private banking for your family or public banking for others, preserving newborn stem cells can save lives,” Keegan is quick to say. “My family saw firsthand what it can do thanks to CBR and my team at Kaiser. There’s no downside.”
Protect your family’s future health
Expecting a child? Have friends or family who are expecting? Enroll with CBR today or log into your account for your unique referral code. When someone you refer preserves with CBR, you’ll get one year of free cord blood storage—and they’ll receive special pricing on our cord blood and cord tissue bundle.