Zach Ertz surprises courageous young fan who overcame brain ailment

Back on Feb. 5, Zach Ertz sent an encouraging tweet to J.D. Sobota, who had just gone through radiation treatment to cure him of arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which occurs when there is a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain.

Coincidently, J.D. received the treatment at Ertz’s alma mater, Stanford. Not long after, St. Norbert School in nearby Paoli, which raised $7,600 to put toward J.D.’s treatment, reached out to the Eagles to see if Ertz would be willing to stop by the school to surprise J.D. on Thursday. Ertz jumped at the opportunity.

“I think that’s Philly as a whole,” Ertz said. “Philly as a whole is so tightknit. It’s such a family-based town that we’re going to always take care of one another. No matter what someone’s going through, Philly is always going to take care of their own, and that’s what really has resonated with my wife (Julie) and I.”

The school lit up with excitement once Ertz entered the building, as his first stop was to J.D.’s third-grade classroom. The students were in disbelief that an Eagles player was standing at the front of their class.

“Is this real?” one student asked Ertz when he fielded questions from J.D.'s classmates. Ertz followed up his Q&A with an autograph session for all of the students, who quickly gathered whatever they could find for Ertz to sign.

The other classes then lined the hallway, not knowing who they were about to meet. Word traveled quickly that Ertz was indeed the special guest, but once he and J.D. emerged from the classroom, the mood in the hallway turned euphoric.

“I’m never washing this hand again!” a student shouted as Ertz and J.D. high-fived the long line of students.

As special as the day was for the St. Norbert students, it meant even more to J.D. and his family.

“We can’t even wrap our heads around it,” J.D.’s mother Cecily said. “This whole year has been things we can’t even wrap our heads around – good things and bad things – and this I think is way more than we ever expected.”

“J.D. is fighting through it all and keeping an upbeat spirit and all this helps so much,” his father Joe said.

“We work extremely hard to be amazing people in this city, my wife and I, and just coming out here and seeing a kid that is dealing with a ton. I mean, the adversity he faces, the trials each and every day is something that I’ve never really had to deal with,” Ertz said.

“Hopefully, giving him today where he can go a day without thinking about all of that adversity he’s facing and just really focus on the joy that life is bringing even as he’s dealing with this.”

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