Vista football opens heart to boy with rare disorder

Despite Joe Wren’s unwavering love for football, the 10-year-old will never be able to play: Born without abdominal muscles and kidneys that don’t work well, he can’t participate in any competitive sports.

But the Mountain Vista football team made his dream come true for a night when it invited him to suit up for a recent football game.

“He has a way of getting into people’s hearts,” said his mother, Sherie Wren. “Down on that sideline, he really feels like he’s part of the gang. Of course, he’s little because of his kidney failure from birth — these guys just make him feel like he’s 6 feet tall.”

Joe, who lives in south Jefferson County, was born with Eagle-Barrett Syndrome, also known as Prune Belly Syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by the partial or complete absence of stomach muscles that can lead to chronic kidney failure. When he was four, he received a kidney transplant. But his body has been rejecting the new kidney for the past few years. He is undergoing treatment to help his body fight the rejection.

“Right now, he’s looking good, but like with a lot of kids with kidney failure, he can look totally fine and everything can change on a dime,” his mother said. “He likes to keep up appearances and keep up with his peers, but it takes an extra toll on him. We’re here tonight, but you never know when we’re going to end up in the hospital.”

In mid-October, the seniors on Vista’s varsity team visited Children’s Hospital to set up arts and crafts as part of their community service for the year. There, they met Joe, who persuaded the players to throw a football with him.

"Joe, and a lot of the kids at Children’s Hospital, can’t do what we do every day,” linebacker Coby Petau said. “They can’t strap on a helmet. They can’t play on a field. It kind of changes my perspective knowing I get to do something that not everyone can do every day.”

Before the seniors left that night, Joe was playing quarterback, yelling at players who missed a catch and sending them to the bench on the makeshift field in the hospital lobby. By the end of the visit, the team decided to make him an honorary player and captain for the Golden Eagles during the Oct. 30 game against Highlands Ranch High School.

“It can be very humbling and very moving for the players to understand how fortunate they are,” varsity head coach Ric Cash said. “This team is about more than just playing football – it’s about the experience and the life lessons.”

At the game, Joe led the Eagles out of the tunnel and onto the field. Whenever the team fell behind, Joe talked them up in the huddle.

“Next time that you play up there, when it’s your turn, knock those guys down, try to,” he told the defensive line, “try to be bulldogs.”

“OK,” lineman Andy Cano said. “We’ll be some bulldogs out there.”

“Yes, sir,” Petau said.

The road to wellness for Joe requires repeated trips to the hospital for the anti-rejection therapy he needs to help his body accept the transplant. So far, his kidney is responding positively, Sherie Wren said. His final treatment was scheduled for this week.

“He has taught us to never give up,” she said. “Before he was born, the doctors said he had a slim chance of living and, if he did, he would have a low quality of life. When people meet him, they’re like ‘You’re kidding, right?’ Now, we have a mini-superstar on our hands.”

Find video of Joe Wren and Mountain Vista football players here.

Published: Highlands Ranch Herald. Page 5. November 2015.