A 12-year-old sidelined by cancer has found a unique way to stay in the game—thanks to a friendship with Spartan basketball player Matt Costello.
When the Spartans take the court for their first game of the NCAA Tournament Friday afternoon, MacKale McGuire will be there in spirit, even as he receives chemotherapy at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
He will wear all green, including his Spartan cap and lucky socks, as he watches the game on TV and cheers on the Spartans. And he will be sure to send Costello pep talks.
If the nurses need to check MacKale’s blood pressure, they already know not to do it during the game.
Matt (Costello) took an opportunity to do something kind for MacKale and it turned into an incredible friendship. This is the kind of athlete we want our kids to emulate.
The friendship between the young cancer patient and Michigan State University basketball star—carried out in a blizzard of texts, some phone calls and a few meetings—buoys MacKale as he battles a rare bone cancer.
“It has given me something besides cancer to think about,” he said Thursday, after he checked into a hospital room to begin a new round of chemo. “And it’s given me something to watch and to do in my free time and someone to root for.”
The friendship provides plenty for Costello to think about, too.
“I think I’ve learned the most from it, for sure,” he said in a CBS Sports interview. He praised MacKale’s positive attitude: “He makes it seem so simple: ‘I have cancer and I’m going to deal with it.’”
MacKale lives in Cadillac, Michigan, with his parents, Marsha and Mike McGuire, and two brothers, McCoy, 9, and MaGill, 8. Born with hemophilia, he has received regular treatments of clotting factor his entire life.
In September, a new problem surfaced: He developed pain in his left leg. A competitive soccer player on a travel team, MacKale treated it as an injury at first. He rested, iced and elevated the leg.
“The leg just didn’t get better,” his mom said. “One night he woke up and couldn’t walk on it at all.”
The McGuires took him to their local hospital. When an X-ray showed possible cancer in the leg, the doctors sent him to Deanna Mitchell, MD, the hematologist-oncologist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital who has treated his hemophilia.
Within two days, the family received the news they dreaded: MacKale had osteosarcoma in the tibia—bone cancer in the larger calf bone.
“It was very quick,” Marsha said. “His life changed immediately.”
Her son the “sports nut” suddenly had to stop all the activities he loved—skiing, soccer, basketball and golf. He had to use crutches because he couldn’t put weight on the fragile leg bone.
“He was like a caged animal,” Marsha said.
As he underwent the first three months of chemo, his school and community rallied to show their support. They wore orange “Team MacKale” T-shirts. They held a blood drive.
On Dec. 15, the Cadillac High School basketball team invited MacKale to serve as honorary captain. That night, fans of MacKale—and the Vikings—filled the stands.
Among them sat Jennifer Costello, whose nephew plays for Cadillac.
She approached MacKale and asked if he would like to Facetime with her son, Matt Costello.
“Do you know him?” she asked.
“Well, yeah,” MacKale replied. “He’s No. 10.”
That single Facetime call led to a series of texts and calls between MacKale and Costello. To encourage Costello before big games, MacKale sent jokes and messages with basketball emoji.
Costello visited MacKale in the hospital.
And MacKale attended the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis to cheer on his friend and his beloved Spartans. When MSU clinched the championship game on March 13, the team cut down the net and divvied it up. Costello gave a piece to his buddy.
MacKale’s mom said her son has been a Spartan fan for years. Neither of his parents attended MSU, but MacKale follows sports in general and loves to study game stats. He became a green-and-white fan all on his own.
Although Marsha didn’t follow college basketball, she quickly became a big fan of Costello.
“There’s opportunities that you have to do good every day. Matt took an opportunity to do something kind for MacKale and it turned into an incredible friendship,” she said. “This is the kind of athlete we want our kids to emulate.”
“He is going the extra mile,” agreed Dr. Mitchell. “He could have just had one contact because of his mother. Instead, he has really followed through and become a good friend to this kid.”
Children with osteosarcoma undergo a tough therapy regimen. MacKale has received three months of chemotherapy. On Jan. 29, he underwent surgery to rebuild his tibia with a donor leg bone. He has to use crutches or a wheelchair for several months.
And he just began another series of chemo treatments that will run until May.
“His relationship with Matt Costello has been a wonderful distraction,” Dr. Mitchell said. “It’s been a huge gift for MacKale.”
MacKale passes the gift on, befriending other young patients when he’s in the hospital.
When he learned a little girl in the room next door wanted to see him, he tore himself away from the basketball game on TV, grabbed his crutches and IV pole, and swung to the door of her room.
Two-year-old Oshanaye Montgomery, in isolation during treatment, jumped up and down and said, “Mac! Mac! Mac!”
MacKale held his hand against the glass. “High five,” he said.
She raised her hand and pressed it to the glass with a big smile.
Statistics in his favor
MacKale won’t be able to play competitive soccer again. But with the limb-sparing surgery, his doctors say he should be able to walk well and participate in activities such as golf and skiing.
Costello looks forward to the day MacKale leaves the sidelines and gets back in the game.
“My wildest hope is that he’s a healthy young man playing basketball and soccer and just being a little kid again,” he said in the CBS interview.
And given his type of cancer and the way it has responded to treatment, MacKale has a good chance for long-term remission, Dr. Mitchell said.
“The statistics are in our favor for him to do very well,” she said.
For MacKale, the stats also are in the Spartans’ favor. He has created three March Madness brackets, and of course, predicted MSU to win the Final Four in all three.
And he will encourage Costello all the way. His texts mix lighthearted advice—“Let the camera get your good side”—with more serious tips.
In general, his messages hit the same theme, he said: “Play hard and do your best. And things will always come out positive.”