Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A savior in green and yellow


After watching the amazing broadcast on Monday Night Football of Brett Favre and his wife and his mid-game montage video and then seeing his wife in the booth and then in the stands and then the booth again and then Tony Kornheiser's touching tribute and then finding out that he's just like a little kid out there, we were inspired. We knew we needed to know more about this mystery man. We knew that there was a possibility he had inspired hope and brought joy to someone out there. Well, we found that person. Enjoy Flotsam's story of Erica Wallace and her life with Packers' quarterback Brett Favre -- a man who has changed the world, a man with a howitzer arm, a man ... a man greater then Gandhi.

Ixonia, Wisc. – The jersey is grimy and faded, barely resembling the crisp green that Mary Wallace remembers when she made the purchase just two years ago. There is a hole the size of a quarter on the left shoulder, a scar whose origin is unknown to the jersey’s buyer. The garment could probably use a wash, and maybe even a replacement.

But for that to happen, Mary would need to ascertain the consent of 9-year-old Erica, and she’s more likely to hit big on the lottery game she plays once a week, when she splits the price of the ticket with two co-workers at Edna’s Diner on 5th and Main.

“That girl loves that jersey more than anything else in the world,” Mary says with a smile, watching her daughter playing on the dining room table in rural Johnson Creek, Wisconsin. She pauses. “Well, I suppose there is one other thing. One person.”

In all reality, that person should be Mary, a single parent who has been Erica’s sole caretaker since she was born on a rainy night in nearby Delafield. But if you asked the little girl, whose ailments often elude the casual glance of a casual onlooker, she would tell you one other person she loves above all else:

“Bwed Farrrr,” she says, exhibiting her speech impediment but still plenty understandable.

Brett Favre.

MONDAY NIGHT AT THE WALLACE HOUSE

Erica hovers near the small television in the kitchen, a hand-me-down electronic that exists as a far cry from the HDTV flat panels possessed by wealthier neighbors not far from the Pleasant View Trailer Park. But the girl doesn’t bother asking for an upgrade; she’s unable to see the difference anyway. As long as she can hear the commentary, and the roar of the crowd when something goes right at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, she is content.

It’s past Erica’s bedtime on Monday night, but Mary has stopped bothering to force her daughter to sleep on nights when the Green Bay Packers play late. Led by 38-year-old living legend Favre, Green Bay stages a miraculous victory over the Denver Broncos, with an 82-yard touchdown pass from its gun-slinging quarterback on the first play of overtime, sealing the victory.

“Bwed Farr!” Erica says triumphantly, aware that her bed time is officially nearing. “Packa win!”

Mary smiles widely at the moment of joy from the little girl who has been dealt so many obstacles in her young life. Mary never was much of a football fan, and is unsure where her daughter has acquired this insatiable taste for the local NFL team, but she has become a Packers fan in support of her daughter’s obsessive interest.

“I don’t even really know how she comprehends the rules, or what’s happening,” Mary says. “I tried to explain some things as best I could a few years back, but a lot she just picked up on her own. She’s a smart little girl.”

Erica claps loudly and then lets out a yawn, showing her fatigue, as if a switch had been flipped. She’s ready for bed, ready to sleep tightly and dream of Brett Favre and his heroics, the man who has been so much more than a football player. Mary is still smiling, one of many happy expressions that has crossed her face in recent months.

“Sometimes, when they lose, she will let me dress her in a different outfit for school,” Mary says, looking lovingly at the tattered jersey bearing the name “Favre” across the back and the dirty No. 4 on the front. She smiles yet again. “But she’s going to be wearing that for the next few days now. And that’s OK. That is OK.”

MEDICAL MARVEL

Erica was born with only one hand, blindness, and an extreme skin disorder that prevents her from spending any time in the sun. She needed surgeries to correct an obstructed wind pipe at age two, and she underwent a series of gene therapy experiments to correct her dwarfish stature beginning at age seven. She has overcome cholera and a near-fatal case of pneumonia, and she rarely speaks when surrounded by others.

She’s a trouper, according to family physician Larry Murdock.

“I look forward to every visit we have with Erica,” Murdock said. “She’s such a brave kid, and she’s endured more than her share of problems. She’s got a lot of people in her corner, thank goodness. And, of course, she has Brett Favre. Thank goodness for him.”

Charitable donations and assistance from Wisconsin foundations have helped to finance Erica’s medical care, but Mary becomes downtrodden when she talks about it. She wants to do more for her little girl, but holding a steady job has been difficult since her husband disappeared off the coast of Haiti mere months before Erica was born.

“I have a hard time looking a lot of these generous people in the eye,” she says. “I don’t want to always be reaching for help, but there’s just nothing I can do. We’ve had a lot more people help us out since they found out about her love for the Packers.”

Not just the love for the Packers. For Brett Favre. And it was a visit to see Erica’s hero in December of last year that changed everything.

GAMEDAY

Erica didn’t know for sure what the envelope meant, but she knew something good had happened when her mom met her at school one afternoon.

“We gon see da Packa!” Erica recalls.

Two tickets to the final game of the 2006 NFL season had arrived in Mary’s mailbox. There was no return address, no real indication of where they had come from. They were postmarked from an area outside Green Bay, though Mary says no family relatives or friends live in the area.

“They were a gift from someone who knew what this would mean to my little girl,” Mary says, tears welling in her eyes. “It turns out they were a gift from heaven, too.”

Because it was a night game on New Year’s Eve and the dangerous sun was not a threat, Mary was able to take her daughter to Green Bay, a 2 1/2-hour road trip in her occasionally-functioning station wagon. Mary said the check engine light remained illuminated the whole way, and at one point she was worried she had blown a tire. But she made it to Lambeau Field, with just enough cash in her pocket to afford parking and a soda for her ecstatic little charge.

Bundled in four layers of jacket, a ski mask, ear muffs, two scarves, long underwear, socks and moon boots, you could barely make out the little girl beneath Erica’s outfit. There is a picture on the mantle, taken from their seats inside the famed stadium, and even though you can’t see any of her facial features, you can sense the joy exuding from little Erica.

They sat on the 50-yard line and watched the Packers pick apart the Chicago Bears. Erica sat diligently in her seat throughout, never asking to even use the bathroom. She knew when the Packers had done something right, and she knew when the Packers had won.

“Brett Favre helped the Packers a vegtory!” she says, more clearly than her previous statements. It seems like there is progress in her speech patterns, and really, it very well could be true.

Since that day at Lambeau, there has been lots of progress for Erica Wallace. Since seeing her beloved Brett Favre, the gene therapy that seemed to be unhelpful for two years began to take hold, and Mary’s little girl began to grow, now a full six inches taller than when she walked through the Lambeau gates. She became more social at school, and her skin disorder has shown signs of subsiding. Two weeks ago, Erica stayed outside in the sun for two hours without repercussions, and doctors believe she has made a remarkable medical turnaround that could see her rid of the ailment altogether within two years.

“Is it a miracle?” Mary wonders. “I don’t know how you can call it anything else.”

The greatest breakthrough came Thursday, when Erica told Mary she could see vague traces of light.

“Mama! I see the green,” she said proudly to her mother, referring to her trademark jersey. “I can see the number four.”

Murdock admits puzzlement.

“There were so many simultaneous problems with Erica, and it just seems they hit a point where she started to grow out of it,” he said. “We’ve never really seen anything of this nature before, so to say the changes are unprecedented is accurate, but only insofar as her case file is already unprecedented.”

As Erica’s condition improves, and Mary finds herself hopeful for the first time in years that her daughter might someday enjoy a perfectly normal life, Murdock smiles at the thought of a child’s love for Favre having something to do with the developments.

“The mind can do a lot of amazing things,” Murdock said. “You can call him a miracle worker if you want. He makes magic happen on the field and he gives people hope off the field. I’m a believer. Oh, yes. I’m a believer.”

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4 Comments:

Blogger Joel said...

This is a helluva story. Nice work.

November 01, 2007 7:56 AM  
Blogger Flotsam Media said...

Thanks, Joel.

Of course, it's Favre's story. We're only the messengers. Or something.

November 01, 2007 8:10 AM  
Blogger barticus said...

It was a cool story until I realized it was not true.... That New Years Eve game was played in almost 50 degree weather... there would have been no need to have that little girl all bundled up like that.

November 01, 2007 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a nice story, but I question the validity also. That game was played in Chicago?! Was this supposed to be fictitious?

February 15, 2008 10:09 AM  

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