By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
It took two years to make Azriel Wasser’s wish of a football field of his own come true.
But the 15-year-old Boca Raton brain cancer survivor said Wasser Field was worth the wait.
On a recent Monday afternoon, Wasser came home from school and was greeted by his friends, siblings and a team who turned his backyard into a football field.
Equipped with an electronic scoreboard, bench with his last name on it and a custom logo in the end zone with his last name Wasser in the same font his favorite team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, use — his wish of a football field of his own was revealed to him.
“This is crazy,” Wasser said as he looked at his new backyard. “I am wowed. This is awesome.”
And the field was only part of his wish. He received a football, helmet and jersey signed by his favorite player Jameis Winston and a video message from tight end Cameron Brate.
After getting the tour of Wasser Field, he kicked a field goal through the uprights and his friends took the turf for a pick-up game.
President and CEO of the Make a Wish Southern Florida chapter Norman Wedderburn has seen all types of requests since his involvement with the organization began about 20 years ago.
But this one, he said, was definitely a unique wish. Out of 11,000 wishes the chapter has granted, kids have gone and trips and met their favorite celebrities, but no one has ever asked for a custom sports field.
“We have never done a football field before,” he said.
It took about two years to make the right connections in raising the money and finding a company to make the wish come true.
Palm Beach Sailing Classic raised money to offset costs and Boynton Beach-based Sports Turf One built the field.
It took more than three weeks to turn the backyard into a gridiron ready field. To keep it a surprise, Azriel’s parents put up hurricane shutters on the back sliders to keep what was going on outside a secret.
“I’m speechless,” Batsheva Wasser, Azriel’s mom said. “I think its extraordinary.”
She said what Make A Wish does for children while they are battling an illness helps to take their mind of the challenging times and focus on the positive parts of their journey.
“He has those memories of being in a hospital and post surgery pain,” she said. “I am hoping those memories fade and these memories remain.”
His mom described her son’s journey with cancer as interesting.
When Azriel was 6-years-old, she said he would complain of headaches. But all the tests came back inconclusive.
“He wasn’t a complainer about his symptoms,” she said of her son. “For him to say he had a mild headache, he must have been in severe pain.”
A few months after those dull headaches, he woke up with a severe headache. The pediatric neurosurgeon said it looked like he had a benign tumor.
The doctor said Azriel was mostly asymptomatic and should have been sicker than he appeared.
Azriel was prepped for surgery to have the brain tumor removed. All but a tiny piece, which was stuck to the optic nerve, was removed. The doctors assured the Wassers the piece that remained was too risky to remove and it was benign, but to monitor it with yearly MRIs.
About five years passed when the doctors noticed an increase of blood flow to the area where the tumor was still located.
“It grew,” she said. “But it dislodged from the optic nerve, so they could take it out.”
Again, Azriel had brain surgery. But this time the piece did not come back benign, rather it was malignant. So he had to follow the surgery with radiation.
Now, he has been in remission for two and a half years.
“Football is something that always made him light up and shine,” his mom said.