In a season marred by politics, it is nice to be reminded every once in a while of the healing power of sports. While the media covers the latest antics of players refusing to stand for the national anthem or dodge criminal charges, the Philadelphia Eagles, led by remarkable young quarterback Carson Wentz, are quietly making news for all the right reasons.
On Sunday, ahead of Monday night’s matchup between the Eagles and Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly, ESPN shared the remarkable story of 10-year-old Lukas Kusters, who sadly succumbed to stomach cancer in June, just weeks after getting the chance to meet his idol Wentz through the Make-A-Wish foundation. Lukas was, understandably, overjoyed by his trip to the Eagles practice facility in May, which included meet-and-greets with many of the players in addition to quality one-on-one time with Wentz, but little did the inspiring young man know just how much of an impact he had on the second-year QB.
Eagle-eyed Eagle fans may have noticed their MVP candidate-quarterback has been sporting a grey rubber bracelet with the words “Dutch Destroyer” stamped on it this season. The bracelet was a gift from Lukas, who is of Dutch descent and earned the nickname after tearing up youth football for years.
Wentz talked about the family after the big win against the Redskins, in which he says he was “thrilled” the family could be there, and that he’s been “praying for that family for a long time.” Check it out:
Here’s the original report from ESPN:
“He was born just like a brick house,” his mother, Rebecca Burmeff, told ESPN. “Not an ounce of fat on him. I don’t even know where these muscles came from on this kid. But, he would get out there [with his older brothers and play]. You would think that he was a 200-pound, 18-year-old out there. He had no fear whatsoever. And he just wanted more of them—more of it.”
The second youngest of five boys, Lukas loved watching football—specifically, the Eagles—nearly as much as he loved playing it. In 2015, he began complaining of stomach pains and doctors discovered a grapefruit-sized mass in the young man’s abdomen. By the time he went in for surgery, the tumor had grown to the size of a regulation football. ESPN reported that when doctors ordered a year of chemotherapy and radiation to treat Lukas’ cancer, his family decorated his hospital room in green and white and hung Wentz’s Eagles and North Dakota State jerseys on the walls. One of the medical professionals caring for Lukas even reached out to the Eagles to share the incredible story. It didn’t take long for a box full of Eagles gear—complete with a personal video message from Wentz—to arrive at Lukas’ bedside.
“When he saw what it was [Wentz], and when he saw that it was for him—he just got this smile, just the most beautiful smile on his face, just ear to ear,” Rebecca said. “Smiled the whole way through it. And then at the end, I think it hit him, this is Carson Wentz—that took the time out of his day—to send this message to me. And he just—he just started to cry. He just started to cry.”
With the same tenacious spirit that served his so well on the football field, Lukas fought through his treatment and physical therapy and all signs seemingly pointed to remission, but, earlier this year, his cancer had returned with a vengeance and doctors issued a grim prognosis. It was then that Make-A-Wish got involved.
“I said, ‘Look, buddy, let’s think of something good and positive and happy right now,’” Rebecca recalled. “Let’s think about your wish and what you could do. And he said to me, ‘Mom, I just want to thank Carson.’ That was his wish. His wish was just to thank Carson for the video he sent him.”
Needless to say, the Eagles planned a special day for their biggest fan that went far beyond a simple thank you. In May, Lukas and his family paid a visit to the team’s practice facility, which included a tour of locker room and trip to the cafeteria. Immediately upon meeting Wentz, Lukas offered his favorite player one of his Dutch Destroyer bracelets. The QB graciously put it on, and, as it turns out, he hasn’t taken it off since. When it came time to leave, Lukas told Wentz and his favorite defensive player, Jordan Hicks, to rub his bald head for good luck.
“He said it was for good luck. And I just told him that I’m praying for him, and I just knew it was something that I would never forget. It was a day that started as I thought would be just a simple hang out with this kid, and it went way deeper than that,” Wentz shared . “You could just feel all of his emotions; just in that hug… I could tell it was tough on them. It was tough on me to know that. I always wish I could do more.”
Lukas died on June 12, just four days after his 10th birthday and two weeks after his Make-A-Wish day with Wentz and the Eagles. He was buried in Wentz’s No.11 jersey, a moving tribute not lost on the quarterback.
“When his family told me that at training camp,” a clearly emotional Wentz told ESPN, “I was— just got done with a hot, long, sweaty practice, and I was trying not to tear up hearing that from his family. To think that—t that he’s buried wearing my jersey… It’s so much deeper than football is what it comes down to. It’s so much more than just a game. Impactful. Meaningful. Powerful. And just another reminder for me that it is more than a game; that it is an opportunity to do good, whatever that is, whatever that looks like, and to just be authentic and genuine with people.”
On September 10, Lukas’ family somberly gathered around the television to watch his beloved team play for the first time since his death, and they were stunned by what they saw.
“What we see is Lukas’ bracelet, right on his wrist,” Rebecca said of seeing Wentz take the field. “It was humbling. And just a proud moment for us—blown away that he continued to hold onto that and carry that with him… It is not just a rubber bracelet. That’s a little boy’s dream, right there.”
Monday night, Lukas’ family was in attendance for the Eagles home game against the Redskins and had a chance to reconnect with Wentz prior to kickoff. As NBC Sports reported, not only was Wentz still wearing his Dutch Destroyer bracelet, he also gave the family the ball from his touchdown pass to Zach Ertz and the hat off his head.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) October 24, 2017
“They’re just a special family,” Wentz said after the game. “It’s impacted me in a big way. I was thrilled that they could be here. The youngest one, that was his first Eagles game. So I told him he better keep coming back.”
“It’s always nice to have him on my wrist,” he concluded. “It’s a constant reminder that it’s so much bigger than football.”
Watch the ESPN report about Lukas HERE.