EAGAN, Minn. – Jack Bennerotte and his family have been on the Vikings waiting list for season tickets, but wide receiver Adam Thielen helped speed up the process.
Thielen stopped by to meet the Bennerottes following the July 28 morning’s walk-through session, which was moved to the Indoor Practice Facility due to inclement weather. He cheerfully greeted a wide-eyed Jack and his younger brother, Evan, and then added another surprise.
“We’ve got four season tickets for you!” Announced Thielen, who handed commemorative tickets to Jack before joking, “Are you excited? Are you going to show up, or are you going to sell them?
“I’ll come find you at a game, see if we can get you on the field,” Thielen added.
In partnership with Make-a-Wish Minnesota, Thielen and the Vikings made Jack’s dream to be season ticket member into a reality.
It all seems to be coming full circle after a simple Vikings lanyard gave Jack something positive to focus on last spring during an uncertain night in the emergency room.
Amid the chaos of tests and frightening possibilities that ended up in doctors’ notes, Jack connected with an ER nurse wearing a Norseman-themed lanyard. The two bonded over a love for their favorite team, and Jack found out the nurse was a season ticket holder at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“He [told her he wanted] to be a season ticket holder, and that night I got online and I got on the wait list,” recalled his mother, Jennifer.
Jack’s journey started in April when, a couple of weeks before a school trip, he began experiencing numbness in his left hand and up through his arm. Then while touring New York and Washington, D.C., with his classmates, Jack’s foot caught on the ground on a few occasions, causing him to trip.
“ I thought … ‘I’m just a normal 17-year-old kid. What’s happening?’ ”
His general practitioner initially blamed the issues on a pinched nerve in Jack’s elbow. When the symptoms increased in severity, however, the Bennerotte family went for a second opinion at another hospital.
Jack was asked by the doctor there to walk from a chair to the office doorway, and immediately potential diagnoses were written down: Multiple Sclerosis. Tumors.
“A bunch of scary stuff,” said Jack, who explained that an MRI was then scheduled at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
The neurologist at Mayo saw signs that may indicate a brain and/or spinal tumor, news that Jack called “a big bomb” in his world. After confirming a spinal tumor and monitoring Jack at the hospital for a few days, a surgery to remove the tumor was scheduled for the following week.
In between, Jack attempted to return to school in his small town of Randolph, Minnesota, but said word of his condition had traveled quickly.
“Right away, everybody’s like, ‘Are you doing OK?’ And I’m like, ‘I just want to be normal for a couple days,’ ” Jack said.
Fortunately, surgery was a success.
“My neurosurgeon, he’s a good guy; he’s a little full of himself, but I’ve gotta love him,” Jack laughed. “He said that he got [all of the tumor].”
During the process of various workups and tests, Jack was diagnosed with a mutation of the BAP1 gene, a rare condition also known as Tumor Predisposition Syndrome. In other words, Jack is more prone to additional tumors or types of cancers and will continuously need to be monitored.
“We just really cherish the time that he’s healthy,” Jennifer said. “We hope he’ll always be healthy. We hope he always has days like this. But we don’t know, so we want to enjoy the days we have that are good.”
A Vikings game day is a good day in the Bennerotte home.
Jennifer described the scene: Jack decked from head to toe in Purple and Gold, even wearing a Vikings bucket hat indoors. He’s stationed in front of the television for the entirety of the game with the company of his dog, who has its own Vikings jersey.
“He’s a big, big fan. He’d prefer never to have to work on Sundays because it’s sort of a sacred day for him,” Jennifer said.
Jack explained that watching the Vikings is a welcome distraction.
“It’s a couple hours in your day that you can just not worry about anything and enjoy it,” Jack said. “It’s awesome.”
Jack grew a bit emotional after his interaction with Thielen, saying he “didn’t think he’d be able to do any of this stuff” after his diagnosis.
Now a few months later, excitement and happiness filled his day. And maybe, just a tiny bit of anxiety – but this time, in a good way.
“I was scared. I was like, ‘Oh, gosh,’ ” laughed Jack of when he first saw Thielen. “I was trying to think about it earlier today, like, ‘If I get to talk to one of these players, what am I going to say?’ It all went out the door.”
Added Jack: “I’m glad he did most of the talking. He’s a great guy.”
For his parents looking on, they couldn’t help but remember that night in the emergency room.
“Jack said, ‘I always wanted to have season tickets to the Vikings, but now I’m not sure I’m going to live long enough,’ ” his mother, Jennifer, tearfully recalled. “And now, he’s doing great. And he’s going to have those tickets.”