A survivor’s reward|Make-A-Wish sends Warren Central’s Aguirre to Spain

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 16, 2010

When Andres Aguirre arrived for soccer practice this season for Warren Central, he always dressed for the occasion from head to toe.

There was David Beckham one day. Then Cristiano Ronaldo. And not just the jerseys. The matching cleats. The shorts. The socks. The only things missing would be Beckham’s tattoos or Ronaldo’s crested haircut.

But now, the Warren Central sophomore midfielder and Hodgkins lymphoma survivor won’t be just wearing the uniform of one of his heroes. He’ll be meeting him.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Aguirre and his family left Monday on a flight to Spain to meet Ronaldo at the Spanish National Team training center in Madrid. Ronaldo, who plays on the wing for Real Madrid after being lured away from Manchester United in a $132 million deal, is the highest paid footballer in the world.

The trip was arranged by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a charity that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses.

The trip was 18 months in the making. The Foundation has affiliates overseas, but the Spanish chapter had no contact with Portugal native Ronaldo. When Aguirre told the Foundation of his wish, they told him it might take as long as five years for all of the arrangements to be made. Before that time was up, Aguirre would turn age 18 and no longer be eligible.

But then there was a phone call. Not only was he going to meet his idol, but he and his family would be flying to Spain to do it, thanks to the work of the Spanish and Portugese affiliates.

“There’s no words for it,” Aguirre said of his reaction to that fateful phone call. “It’s incredible. That’s the only way you can put it.”

Aguirre was diagnosed with Hodgkins, a cancer of the white blood cells, in 2007 and he was forced to undergo both chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the University of Mississippi Children’s Cancer Clinic.

At one point, the prognosis was poor as the cancer became aggressive and reached stage four, an advanced form of the disease. He returned to his native Mexico for drug therapy not available in the United States. He was given a 33 percent chance of survival when he returned to Mississippi after the therapy failed.

“I remember when we found out that he had cancer, it was one of those days, really gray and sad,” Yesenia Aguirre, Andres’ older sister, said. “My mom (Lourdes Aguirre) got so skinny and was so sad.”

Yesenia took care of her other two younger brothers, washing clothes, cooking supper and making sure homework was done while her mother took Andres to Jackson and sat with him while he received his treatments for hours at a time.

Andres later received a blood stem cell transplant and was forced to spend four months in his house because, as he put it, “my immune system was like that of a baby.” He could only watch his heroes on the pitch on television, unable to indulge in his passion or even hang out with his friends.

Despite going through the agony of the chemo and radiation, Aguirre found positives in his struggles, six months removed from his cancer going into remission.

“I was really young and I didn’t understand much, but it’s made me a better person,” Aguirre said. “It made my whole family stronger and that’s a really good thing.”

But the experience would soon be worth it. Aguirre was declared to be in remission and he wanted to return to the soccer pitch, wearing the red and blue of Warren Central. There was one problem: there was no way with the school he missed for Aguirre to meet eligibility requirements.

WC coach Greg Head applied for a dispensation and got it from the Mississippi High School Activities Association so Aguirre could play. When he returned to practice, his endurance, after four years away from the pitch, was limited, but he did what he could. He told the coaching staff he didn’t want a big deal made about it. No “win one for Andres” sentiment. He just wanted to be another player on the pitch.

“They’ve been patient as he’s gone through all of this stuff,” Head said. “I knew he was going to work as hard as he could, but when he had to stop, he had to stop. It’s been an inspiration for them to see someone have to work so hard to get it back.”

Even though he could only play limited stretches, Aguirre was a key contributor in the Vikings’ division title this season. Even if he couldn’t play his preferred position on the wing like Ronaldo.

As for what he’s going to do when he gets to tour the Spanish team’s practice facility and actually meet his hero, well, Aguirre hasn’t even thought of what he’d say. But he knows what he’s going to wear. All four of his Ronaldo jerseys, one on top of the other.

“It’s the eighth wonder of the world,” Aguirre joked about his collection of soccer jerseys. “I’m going to be nervous. I’ll probably faint. He’s an awesome player and he’s inspired me.”

Contact Steve Wilson at swilson@vicksburgpost.com