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Soccer player meets heroes through Kids Wish Network

Mackenzie Jacobson met Orland Pride soccer player Alex Morgan thanks to work by the Kids Wish Network, a national charitable organization that grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses. (Submitted Photo)

If you watched Farmington-Apple Valley resident Mackenzie Jacobson play soccer during the fall of 2015, you probably never would have guessed the young athlete had undergone open heart surgery that summer.

It wasn't her first open heart surgery either. Due to a congenital heart defect called tetralogy of Fallot, Mackenzie was born with a hole between the two chambers of her heart. The condition causes a smaller, tighter pulmonary valve than normal, preventing blood from flowing through it properly.

Mackenzie had her first open heart surgery at 5 months old. The surgery repaired the hole in her heart, but doctors had to remove the pulmonary valve, compromising her immune system and leading to bouts of influenza and pneumonia each winter. As she got older, she found she tired more easily too.

"She was sick all the time. She was getting tired and not able to play as she used to," her mother, Jennifer Jacobson, said.

None of this sounds very promising for a young woman who dreams of becoming a soccer player and cardiologist when she grows up. Though the condition isn't necessarily life threatening, Mackenzie has had to deal with many medical challenges most 13 year olds have not.

It was Mother's Day weekend in 2015 when Mackenzie collapsed on the soccer field and doctors decided to perform surgery to install a new pulmonary valve. Wanting to do something special for her niece as she was going through surgery, Mackenzie's aunt put the family in touch with Kids Wish Network, a national charitable organization that grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses.

When Kids Wish Network surprised Mackenzie with a video conference call to announce they were going to grant her wish, she was ecstatic. Mackenzie, who plays travelling soccer for Valley United Soccer Club in Apple Valley, had asked to meet the women's USA soccer team. In response, Kids Wish Network invited Mackenzie, her mother, her brother Zach and her twin sister Zoey to Orlando, Fla., to participate in a VIP experience with the Orlando Pride.

"She was kind of in shock," Jacobson said. "She didn't say a whole lot, and then after she got off the phone, she started jumping up and down and running around the house. She even had dreams about it."

Jacobson said her daughter is passionate about playing soccer and looks up to Orlando Pride forward and Olympic champion Alex Morgan. So flying out to Orlando in September to meet Morgan and watch her play was indeed a wish come true.

"I think she was just in heaven," Jacobson said. "I think she was just kind of in awe of all of it."

The Jacobsons arrived early to catch the team's pregame warm up from the field, then sat in the president's suite to watch the Pride's last game of the season. Afterwards, players from both soccer teams came over to greet Mackenzie and sign autographs on the field. Orlando Pride team captain Kaylyn Kyle presented Mackenzie with her captain's armband.

In addition to offering Mackenzie a VIP soccer experience, Kids Wish Network arranged for the Jacobson family to stay at a 4-star hotel, participate in activities at local theme parks, and get chauffeured around Orlando in a private limousine.

Jacobson said the care Kids Wish Network offered her family didn't end at the trip to Florida either. Cassi Long, a Kids Wish Network team leader, still calls occasionally to check in with Mackenzie. And a few weeks after the Jacobsons returned home from Orlando, they received a huge box filled with toys and children's activities from Kids Wish Network, just because.

"I couldn't even believe it," Jacobson said. "It was like Christmas for all three kids."

Jacobson said for Mackenzie, meeting a group of professional women's soccer players and being on the field with them was probably the best experience of her life.

"She's been watching them on TV since she was little," she said. "They were so amazing to her."

As for Mackenzie, the tissue valve she received when she was 12 will need to be replaced about every 10 years. Meanwhile, her doctors encourage her to keep playing soccer and remain active. Now she will be able to take that memory of meeting Alex Morgan with her as she plays.

"It was beyond anything any of us ever imagined," Jacobson said. "I know she'll remember this forever."