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Sarasota Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019 7 months ago

Pine View student surprised with Make-A-Wish visit to New Orleans Saints

Pine View School sophomore Max LaForge, who has cystic fibrosis, learned at a fake assembly that he will meet players from his favorite NFL team this weekend.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

The assembly was advertised to Pine View School students as a “social and emotional module” for the 10th and 12th grades — believable enough. Principal Stephen Covert pointed out, while a few final stragglers slid into the auditorium, that the administration had already held assemblies about stress management, substance abuse and even human trafficking.

But in this case, it was a convenient facade.

Max LaForge is a 10th grader at Pine View living with cystic fibrosis. Two of his three siblings, Phoebe LaForge and Ben Covert, are 12th graders at the school. And Max began to decipher what the assembly was really about when two Make-A-Wish representatives walked out from behind the curtain.

“When I saw them come out, I was like, ‘Oh no,’” Max laughed. “‘This is about to happen.’”

They soon called him on stage, the school’s jazz band played “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and Max embraced Principal Covert, who is also his stepdad. A large banner reading, “Max, you’re going to meet the Saints!” was unfurled as family members joined him to celebrate an emotional dream become reality.

Max LaForge smiles and points at a family member after being joined on stage by his family.

Cystic fibrosis is “a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time,” according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Max's condition was diagnosed at age 2. He has undergone several medical procedures and still visits the hospital often, staying for at least two weeks each time. He missed two months of school last year.

“I’m doing OK for now,” Max said. “I don't plan on going into the hospital anytime soon. I feel great ... It's just not everything is right on the inside.

“There's always those days that I don't feel well but that goes for everyone. Not everyone feels great every day. But I like staying positive because I know a lot of kids have it rough. And so I just try and stick through those rough days and I know I’ll get better.”

Max started rooting for New Orleans when he was in the hospital at 8 years old. His dad, John LaForge, had several Saints, including quarterback Drew Brees, on his fantasy football team. Eventually, Max’s love for his dad’s fantasy players evolved into an “obsession” with the entire team.

Max left for New Orleans shortly after the ceremony, where he will attend a private practice this weekend and the team’s Monday night  game against the Indianapolis Colts, which is the favorite team of half his family. Max was most excited about meeting the Saints, especially Brees, who is still his favorite player.

It took the love and support of many people to make Max’s wish come true: his mom, Cara Covert, the brains of the operation; both his dad and stepdad; Ben, who learned from Max how he wanted the then-hypothetical wish to be revealed; his younger brother, Barrett Covert, a sixth grader at Pine View; Phoebe, who said it was “very difficult” to keep quiet about the surprise; staff members, friends and parents who also had to keep the secret; Make-A-Wish; and Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, which Max’s dad said has been “incredible” while working with Max.

This was best exemplified a few minutes after Max took the stage. He took the mic and spoke for a few seconds, getting choked up as he finished speaking about his longtime dream coming to fruition. His fellow students offered a long, hearty round of applause.

“Max exudes love and he exudes positivity,” Cara Covert said. “So you can see how it comes back to him tenfold on that stage, a hundredfold out in the audience.”

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