“The Packers suck.”
Not many friendships start with those three words, especially when they’re directed at a die-hard Green Bay fan. However, one did for Concord Junior High School teacher Peg Kelly and true-blue Chicago Bears devotee Miguel Reyes. Their friendship carried on through the rivalry and continued after Miguel was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year.
If anything, the rivalry strengthened their relationship.
“I said, ‘You need to name that tumor so we can kill it,’” Kelly said. “You know what he named it? Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers. What a stinker!”
Miguel, 14, refers to his former teacher as “Aunt Peg” because they’re so close that she’s like family. Now a ninth-grader at Concord High School, he’s changed a lot since he first walked into Kelly’s office. Weight loss from nausea and chemotherapy treatments combined with a growth spurt have lengthened and lightened his frame. And while the tumor has stopped growing, problems with vision, headaches, short-term memory and seizures have persisted.
But in spite of everything, the attitude that inspired “Mighty Miguel’s” nickname is still there.
“I love school. I force myself to go as many days as possible,” Miguel said. Right now he is taking math and English, and next semester he might get to take an art class, although his vision problems and seizures are a concern.
The Reyes family and Kelly are hoping Miguel’s dog, Hester, can change that.
During a recent visit to the Reyes’ home in Elkhart, Miguel’s mother, Christy Reyes, pulled the jumping, 13-month-old German shepherd to a sitting position in the living room. The happy pup obeyed for a moment before playfully biting at her leash and wiggling around in a circle. Hester is named after Miguel’s favorite football player, former Bears player Devin Hester, and became a part of the family last September.
It was Kelly’s idea to find Miguel a dog — and on top of that, she bought it for him.
“I knew he was going to be going through a long battle,” Kelly said. “I thought they could train her to alert them if Miguel was in trouble.” Kelly also thought the teenager could use a friend. When she brought the idea up to Christy, she agreed.
“He needs to have someone that he can hold on to, and cry and laugh and talk to,” Reyes said. “He needs someone that doesn’t treat him like he’s sick.”
Sitting on their couch, Christy watched as Miguel flipped through photos on his iPad. Since Miguel and Kelly brought Hester home, the device has filled up with photos of the two smiling next to each other, Hester’s tongue hanging out to one side. “She always does that,” Miguel said. “She’s silly.”
A short whimper was heard at the back door, then a smack as Hester’s paw batted against wood. The lumbering puppy had been put outside to run off some energy.
Miguel didn’t make it to school that day. He had started the morning in high spirits, then his vision began to blur. Christy heard Hester barking before Miguel’s voice drifted out from the kitchen.
“He said, ‘I don’t feel so good, my vision’s going,’” she recalled. Miguel had had two good days, and Christy had hoped for a third for her son. Then the headache came. “And I’m like, oh no … and he said, ‘Just call school, Mom, I’m not going to make it.’”
The problems with his peripheral vision started around the time of his diagnosis, Christy said. Lately vision in his left eye has become worse. “When I’m with him, I’m his eyes, and I’ll say, ‘Look left,’” Christy said. “When he seizes, he totally loses his vision.”
The family’s hope is that Hester can be trained not only to alert to seizures, but to help Miguel avoid bumping into things.
While she may not always listen to Christy’s commands, a snap from Miguel will bring the dog to a halt. But Hester’s size and energy have become a problem.
“She’s really, really strong, and she paws at him,” Christy said. “It’s her way of saying I love you, but he’s weak. …She doesn’t understand.”
Christy has searched online to try and estimate the cost of training the dog. “With him being sick, I’m not working, medical expenses and travel expenses. … We don’t have the extra money,” she said.
They finally found a trainer who estimated $10,000. She met with the family and Hester on Aug. 16.
“Hester started nipping and misbehaving, and the trainer just said, ‘No,’ and she sat down and stopped. … It was amazing,” Christy said, laughing. At the suggestion of a friend, the family started a GoFundMe campaign in July to raise money for Hester’s training. So far, the campaign has raised $560.
“I don’t want to beat anybody to death with it, so we’re just waiting to see what happens,” Christy said. “Trust in the Lord, that’s all you can do. He’s brought us this far.”
Since Miguel started treatment, the Mighty Miguel community has continued to grow. Messages and prayers fill up the Mighty Miguel Facebook page from across the country. Christy continues to update the page with posts about Miguel’s journey. Every now and then, Miguel will post a video message asking for prayers and thanking everyone for their support. He started his eighth and final round of chemotherapy last week, and the treatment will continue until October.
Back inside the Reyes home, another whimper drifted in from outside, and Christy shook her head and smiled before grabbing Hester’s leash to let her in. The dog scrambled onto the carpet, her tail wagging as she spotted Miguel. Christy brought her to the ottoman in the center of the room, then commanded her to sit.
Hester licked and nipped at her hand instead before falling on her back, hoping for a belly rub. Miguel moved to sit on the other side of the cushion next to his mom, and the dog perked back up to a sitting position. “She likes it when you do this,” Miguel said before scratching Hester’s neck with his knuckles.
According to Kelly, Hester fills in an important piece of the puzzle that forms the Reyes family.
“Miguel is just a great kid, and I hope they can get that dog trained,” Kelly said.
The only thing the Packers fan doesn’t agree with — the name.
“Who names a dog Hester? That’s just wrong.”