Since we lost him in summer 2020, just months after his middle school graduation, Mossila “Mo” Gaba has been celebrated across Baltimore and the entire country for his incredible ability to smile, remain optimistic and spread positivity, even when faced with cancer four times in his 14 years. He is known for his positive attitude, love of sports — especially the Baltimore Ravens and Baltimore Orioles — and his vivacious, whole-body, infectious, one-of-a-kind laugh, which will never be forgotten.
“He was in love with the moment, and he made you in love with the moment,” recalls Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh.
Mo’s mom, Sonsy, first noticed something wrong with Mo when his eyes appeared white in a photo taken at a family gathering in 2006. Johns Hopkins Children’s Center specialists diagnosed Mo with bilateral retinoblastoma, a malignant tumor of the retina that develops in both eyes, which was a result of a genetic mutation that would cause his cancer to return again and again.
After spending four months in Houston, where Mo was treated with proton therapy, he and Sonsy returned to Maryland just before Mo’s second birthday in 2008. He remained healthy until he found a bump on his neck at age 6. Physicians at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center diagnosed Mo with another malignant tumor, and he received aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant in early 2013.
Mo was in remission for the second time until he was 11, when he fell in gym class and the pain in his leg wouldn’t go away. Sonsy brought Mo to the Children’s Center, where scans revealed the cancer had again returned — this time in his right leg and both lungs.
Mo underwent aggressive chemotherapy for both his leg and lungs, and also received a knee replacement to remove the tumor from his bone. In early 2018, Mo underwent two surgeries to remove the tumors from his lungs and, for nearly two weeks, was placed into a medically induced coma to give his body time to heal.
The cancer, which they knew they would battle for Mo’s entire life, returned for a fourth time when he was 13, this time as aggressive tumors in his lungs and brain. In March 2020, doctors told Sonsy that there was nothing more that could be done to save Mo’s life. “It didn’t register at first,” Sonsy says, “because it felt like every time we had tackled something, he would bounce right back from it. This time, there was nothing else they could do. I was crushed.”
Mo accomplished so much in his short life. He served as a National Champion for the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, he was inducted as an honorary member into the Orioles Hall of Fame, and, almost completely blind as a result of his cancer, was the first person in history to announce an NFL draft pick in Braille.
Mo spent much of his life at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, and it would be easy for his mom — and best friend — to have negative memories of those times. But Sonsy explains, “I will never think of Johns Hopkins as the place that couldn’t save my son. Johns Hopkins Children’s Center means everything. Even though my son’s no longer here, this facility and what they’re able to do for children is amazing. To the staff, nurses, doctors, child life, everyone … I am beyond grateful. They touched my son’s life in so many ways and I can’t thank them enough.”
Sonsy recalls the most beautifully vibrant purple and orange sunset over Baltimore the evening that Mo lost his final fight with cancer. So fitting for a boy who loved the Ravens, loved the Orioles, and, more than anything, loved his mom.
“Make every day a win,” Mo is remembered to have said often. “Don’t be scared, don’t cry. Make sure to laugh. When you laugh, others laugh too, and then everybody feels better.”
Listen to Mo’s story.