ST. PAUL - Dominik Lawson never has been one to shy from a challenge.
Case in point: If his older brother, Donte, comes after him trying to provoke a little horseplay, Dominik holds his ground.
"There's no chasing," said the boys' father, Jim. "Dom just stops and starts swinging."
Dominik's toughness has been on display for most of his 13 years. Born three months premature with failing kidneys, he received his first transplant when he was just shy of 2 years old, in April 2007. Dominik's body rejected that kidney, which was donated by his mother, Kelly, within 30 days. He underwent a second transplant in the spring of 2008.
Within the past year, Dominik's body started to reject that one, as well, and he had another transplant Feb. 23 at University of Minnesota Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. The procedure came sooner than expected.
Dominik was in dialysis the day before when Kelly received a phone call and learned there was a better match, from a recently deceased young female. The family was encouraged to move forward with the new organ donor, and surgery was scheduled for the following morning. As delays mounted that Saturday, big brother faced a dilemma.
For so long Dominik's "security blanket," Donte wasn't comfortable leaving the hospital and heading north for Amsoil Arena, where his Greenway hockey team was to meet Duluth Denfeld in a Section 7A semifinal. The Raiders' star senior forward was wrestling with the weight of the decision.
What's the right thing to do in that situation?
"Donte would've stayed," Jim said Wednesday night from a suite at Xcel Energy Center. "There's not a doubt in my mind he would've stayed."
The Lawsons had some friends in Minneapolis who were happy to drive Donte to and from Duluth. That helped him decide. As did some strong words from his sibling.
"I told him he had to go," Dominik said, "and that I'd be fine."
Added Jim: "I know Dom told him, 'You get your butt up there and play.' "
Donte didn't just help Greenway earn a return trip to the section championship. He spearheaded it, scoring a hat trick and assisting on two other goals in a 6-2 victory. Afterward, his coach, Grant Clafton, said: "There's no doubt he played for his brother tonight."
Donte and Dominik have a special bond. Likewise for their older sister, Kailey.
"We grew up together and we've been best friends since he was born," Donte said. "He's taught me a lot about being strong and just to keep fighting. He's definitely one of the toughest kids I've ever seen, if not the toughest."
Said Kelly: "They can talk smack to each other, but if anybody else does, watch out. They really push each other and hold each other accountable."
Wednesday at Xcel, with the Raiders getting ready to face Delano in a Class A state tournament quarterfinal, Dominik was in his element. If you didn't know any better, you'd have thought he was just another healthy boy mixing it up with his friends while boosting concession profits.
It was the first day Dominik's food restrictions were lifted, and the teenager, wearing a "Tourney '19" winter hat and gray hoodie, was making up for lost time. Beef jerky, ice cream, a sugary drink. There was talk of a corn dog, too.
Hey, he's earned it.
The Lawsons, of Taconite, weren't sure if Dominik would be able to attend the game. He's on numerous medications, which suppress his immune system. Large crowds aren't advised. But when Youth Hockey Hub solicited donation of an Xcel suite last week on Twitter, the response was swift. Within eight minutes, one had been gifted to the family for all of Greenway's games at Xcel.
The anonymous do-gooder resides in Hermantown, and likely had been hoping to watch the Hawks compete at state. Greenway thwarted that prospect in last week's section final when the Raiders stunned Hermantown in double overtime. The player responsible for the game-winning goal?
Donte Lawson, of course, on a rebound.
Back in Minneapolis, his parents and brother were listening to the contest online. Dominik had a minor setback that night, so Jim and Kelly didn't pick up the action until the third period. They were nervous wrecks. As the game approached overtime, Kelly texted Donte, knowing full well he wouldn't see the message until the outcome had been determined.
"I believe in you," she told him.
Jim? He was pacing all over the place "trying not to step on any green squares" on the hospital floor. "I was trying to step on the blue ones," he added. Hermantown colors.
In the second OT, they heard the announcer describe Greenway senior Aaron Elich's shot, and the ensuing rebound. Then all Jim and Kelly heard was pandemonium. They vaguely caught the name "Lawson."
"Jim was like, 'He scored! He scored!' " Kelly recalled.
Dominik started to get sick about a year ago. His kidney was functioning at 20 percent, an indicator that another transplant was inevitable. Things worsened over the summer as Dominik, abnormally lethargic, gained a lot of fluid weight. In August, he was admitted to the hospital.
A nephrologist informed them of the situation's severity.
"She talked to us and she just said, 'It's time. Because right now he is too ill to even be placed on the transplant list,' " Kelly remembered.
Dominik finally was put on the list around mid-November, once he had gotten his weight down and his strength up. He went in at 143 pounds and is now at 110, Kelly said.
Wednesday, Dominik, who had surgery earlier in the day to remove his dialysis catheter, was basking in freedom. As he interacted with friends and bopped around the Xcel concourse, Kelly stood nearby, a telling smile spread across her face.
"He's an inspiration," Donte said earlier in the week.