Lenny Perez-Rivera is 9 and lives in Georgetown. He and his family have recently returned from Brazil, where they watched two World Cup games, went sightseeing and participated in a huge fan-appreciation festival. This wonderful experience was courtesy of the Make-A-Wish organization, because Lenny has leukemia.
Lenny is a big soccer fan. His favorite player is Neymar (Neymar da Silva Santos Jr.), who comes from Brazil and currently plays for Barcelona.
“When I was told I could have any wish, I knew right away I wanted to go to the World Cup,” he said.
Despite the anxiety about getting last-minute visas, a journey that took three plane rides and two days of travel in each direction, and being in a foreign country where everyone speaks Portuguese, the Perez-Rivera family described Lenny’s wish as a life-changing positive experience.
“Lenny walks taller now. He is more confident. He smiles more. He believes he is somebody,” said his father, Cecilio Perez.
“My favorite part was sitting in the stands with all the people from so many countries and watching the games,” said Lenny. “It was so loud and exciting.”
Although waving flags during the games was prohibited, Lenny showed his pride in being an American by wearing his red-, white-and-blue stars-and-stripes scarf. He also wore his Make-A-Wish pin and saw several other “wish kids” in the stands.
Since their return home, Lenny has been back to Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children, where he will continue to have monthly chemotherapy treatments for the next two years. And, on the weekends, the family is making a point of thanking all the people who contributed to Lenny’s wish and making it even more special.
One of the gifts Lenny was given at his send-off party was donated by Tommy Johnson, owner of Bethany Sports Cards & Collectibles. It is a bright yellow jersey and shorts set with Neymar’s name and number.
This past weekend, Lenny went to the store for the first time to say “thank you” and give them a picture of him wearing his special shirt. He was proud to shake the hand of store employee Danny McMahon and see his picture — upon which he wrote “Thank you, Lenny” — pinned to a shelf behind the counter.
Neymar, Brazil’s star player, was badly injured during the one of the games in the World Cup and was unable to continue playing. Lenny was back home then and watching the game on television. “It made me cry,” he said.
Many of the wishes granted by Make-A-Wish involve travel. It is why the generous donation of frequent flyer miles is such an integral part of their being able to provide kids with life-threatening illnesses a wish experience they will never forget. To donate miles to help children like Lenny, go to http://midatlantic.wish.org/ways-to-help/giving/airline-miles.
Bethany Sports Cards & Collectibles is located at 100 Garfield Parkway, Unit 7. They are open year-round.