'I had the time of my life': Elburn boy attends Super Bowl through Make-A-Wish Illinois
His team may not have won the Lombardi Trophy, but Matthew Kinsella of Elburn still had a once-in-a-lifetime experience as he watched the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the Philadelphia Eagles at Super Bowl 57 in Arizona.
"I really wanted the Eagles [to win]," said Matthew, 11, a sixth-grader at Kaneland Harter Middle School. "I wanted Jason Kelce to get a ring because I like him as a player."
Matthew, who has a rare genetic condition called tuberous sclerosis, loves football, especially the Chicago Bears. So when Make-A-Wish Illinois, a nonprofit organization that creates "life-changing wish experiences for children with critical illnesses," reached out to him to plan a wish, attending the Super Bowl was his first choice.
"Seeing Matthew and [the other] families find joy through their experiences inspires us and reinforces the importance of wishes for children with critical illnesses," said Ryan Blackburn, vice president of mission delivery for Make-A-Wish Illinois. "The impact will last a lifetime and help them cope with their conditions, reminding them that anything is possible.
"Matthew and his parents spent several days leading up to the game taking in all the special events Make-A-Wish planned for the 17 families from across the country who made the trek to Arizona.
"I was super excited. I couldn't wait," Matthew said. "I was most excited about the game itself. I like football, and that was the main part of the wish. My friends were telling me how lucky I was, and they were texting me while I was there. Everyone was so nice, and I felt really special."
In addition to the game, the families attended the NFL Honors ceremony on Feb. 9, where Matthew met several of his football heroes and collected signed footballs, jerseys and other memorabilia. During the weekend, the Make-A-Wish families took a tour of the stadium, spent a day at Topgolf and Dave and Buster's, and enjoyed the "NFL Experience" in downtown Phoenix, where kids got custom-made footballs.
"Make-A-Wish is an incredible organization," said Kristin Kinsella, Matthew's mother. "What they do for these children is unbelievable. The minute you walk off the plane, you're treated like a celebrity. They want to give these kids time where they're not worried about anything. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. It's about the experience they're providing for these kids."
Matthew's condition causes small, often benign tumors to grow throughout his body. While his condition is potentially life-threatening, Kinsella said the tumors have remained stable thanks to medication.
"We're very fortunate that he's not had seizures and [the tumors] haven't grown," she said. "He has scans every six months to monitor his vital organs. He's really just a normal kid but has a lot more doctor's appointments. We're very fortunate that he's mildly impacted. But at any point, his tumors could grow larger or in new locations which could impact him."
Reflecting on his trip a few days after returning to Illinois, Matthew said he's very grateful to Make-A-Wish.
"It was just terrific. I had the time of my life," he said. "Make-A-Wish is awesome. They gave me all this stuff and treated me super well. I'm so thankful for everything they've done for me."
For information or to volunteer, refer a child or donate to Make-A-Wish Illinois, visit wish.org/illinois.