LAKELAND – Thirteen is a sensitive age for most kids. Trying to fit in and be just like everyone else is very important to teens. And though Sal has many of the same interests as other boys his age, like music, fishing, and watching sports, there is one thing that sets him apart: his heart. He suffers from a severe heart condition that prevents the proper flow of blood. He has a weak heart valve and the left side of his heart is enlarged. In addition to this, he has had two heart surgeries to remove a growth from under his aortic valve. Sal must also be very careful to disinfect even the simplest scratch because he is susceptible to getting endocarditis, a severe infection of the heart lining. Making it even more difficult to grow up with this condition is the fact that both Sal’s father and brother earned sports scholarships to college while he himself is prohibited from any strenuous activity. “He wants to participate like everyone else, but he doesn’t let it get him down,” said his mother, Marlene.
Sal may not participate in sports, but it has never dampened his enthusiasm for watching them, especially his old hometown football team, the Denver Broncos. So when Wish Coordinator Madeline Robinson of Kids Wish Network heard about Sal and his only wish to meet legendary quarterback John Elway and take in a Broncos game with him, she called a few of her own plays to score Sal a little happiness. “Sal has always thought that John Elway was a good sport and a hard worker, so he wanted to meet him,” Marlene said. Madeline quickly went to work to make sure that Sal’s entire Colorado stay had enough twists and turns to rival even the greatest running play.
Not only would he get to meet his hero, but before the big day arrived, he would also experience the cowboy way of life. The family’s first stop was at the Peaceful Valley Guest Ranch where Sal went horseback riding, took a swim with his brother and got to spend the night in a log cabin. “The people were so wonderful and gracious to Sal,” Marlene said. The next day, Sal visited the Sombrero Ranch. “They let him gallop on his horse and ride through water, “ Marlene said. “He even saw some deer; he absolutely loved it.” That night the family enjoyed an interactive dining experience at Casa Bonita, where their Mexican feast came complete with live entertainment like gun fights, cliff divers, and puppet shows.
Finally game day arrived and began with a huge play: a surprise limousine ride to the stadium. “We thought we were just going to go in a cab!” Marlene said. Then, two minutes into the 2nd quarter, Sal and his family where escorted up to John Elway’s private box. “Sal was just speechless,” Marlene said. “Mr. Elway was so nice and sociable. He signed a few autographs and took pictures with Sal.” Marlene said Elway sat and watched the game with Sal and talked football with him. For one quarter, Sal and his brother were supposed to be the only people in the box with Elway; but he surprised Sal with a quarterback sneak and let the whole family stay for the entire game! “Sal got to ask him why he chose to play football over baseball, and he just said football was more fun,” Marlene said. “Sal was just in awe. They were all so wonderful to him.” It was a dream for Sal to be with his hero as he watched his favorite team earn a hard fought victory over the New England Patriots.
“The entire trip was so wonderful,” Marlene said. “My son was just thrilled to be there.” It was also a fun time for Sal to be with his older brother, his mother said. “He’s been gone for a while and Sal missed him.” Marlene said it is hard to explain the whole experience. “I don’t even think I know the words to use to describe how great it all was,” she said. “Everything, even from the food to the hotel, was spectacular. Kids Wish Network went above and beyond all of Sal’s dreams and expectations. I can truly say it was the highlight of his life.”
Kids Wish Network would like to thank all of its gracious sponsors: American Airlines, Advantage Car Rental, Hotel Monaco, Peaceful Valley Guest Ranch, Sombrero Ranch, Preferred Limousine, the Denver Broncos, Casa Bonita, and of course, Mr. John Elway for making Sal’s wish a dream come true.
Kids Wish Network is a nationally recognized non-profit organization whose mission is to grant wishes to children who have life-threatening illnesses. If you know of a child between the ages of 3 and 18 who may be in need of Kids Wish Network’s wish granting services, please call (813) 891-9374 or toll free at (888) 918-9004. You can also visit Kids Wish Network’s web site at www.kidswishnetwork.org.