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Make-A-Wish grants Turlock teens wish to see the Fighting Irish
AJ 11
Andrew AJ Perez had his wish to see a Notre Dame football game granted by Make-A-Wish this weekend. - photo by Photo Contributed

Andrew “AJ” Perez has wanted to attend a Notre Dame football game since he was six years old. This previous weekend, that long-awaited dream became a reality thanks to Make-A-Wish, who granted the 13-year-old’s wish to see the Fighting Irish in Indiana.


“I’ve always really liked Notre Dame and how they play, so when I found out I was going to do Make-A-Wish that was one of the ideas that popped into my head,” said AJ.


On the night of the Make-A-Wish reveal last Wednesday, AJ and his family were picked up by a limousine and chauffeured to Sacramento, where AJ thought they were just going to get dinner. When the limousine pulled up to The Wishing Place instead, however, AJ said that he became suspicious.


“I was expecting to go out to dinner,” said AJ. “So I was like okay, what are we doing here?”


Once inside, AJ met Notre Dame alumni and KCRA 3 Financial Expert Kelly Brothers, who handed him a football that said “your wish is granted.” Brothers, who sponsored AJ’s wish, ushered him into the next room, where he was given a personalized jersey amidst Notre Dame decorations.


“I was like, wait, what is happening? I was still trying to comprehend it at the time,” said AJ. “It was all a blur to me.”


“He’s not often speechless and he was speechless,” added his mom Theresa Perez.


Throughout the weekend, AJ and his family went on a private tour of the Notre Dame campus, locker room and athletic complex, attended a pep rally, met a number of Notre Dame football players, and watched the Notre Dame football game against Virginia Tech in the snow — weather that Theresa said was also part of AJ’s wish.


“It was really an amazing trip for us as a family to just go and have the everyday worries,” said Theresa. “We’re coming up on another six month check up here pretty quickly so it’s kind of nice to just be able to go and not worry about that. Just enjoy our time together as a family to do something just so incredible.”


Exactly one year ago — on the day after Thanksgiving — AJ was diagnosed with lymphoma after he discovered a lump on his chest that was later identified as a tumor.


Three weeks following his diagnosis, a group of AJ’s seventh grade classmates at Sacred Heart Catholic School shaved their heads in support.


“It meant a lot,” said AJ. “It showed that they were there for me and battling with me.”


Theresa said that once he was diagnosed, AJ underwent five rounds of chemotherapy and two weeks of radiation treatments. After his second round of chemotherapy in January, doctors performed a CT and PET scan and determined that there were no active cancer cells. Once he completed radiation treatments in April, he returned to Sacred Heart to finish out the rest of the school year.


“He was able to play baseball again in the fall and he’s getting ready to play basketball for the first time in two years,” said Teresa.


Following their return this week, AJ said that he not only looks forward to seeing another Notre Dame football game in the future, but he wants to return one day as a student.


“I’m hoping to go there,” said AJ.