Football bonds nearly blind boy and cancer-stricken father

MILWAUKEE — Very few things in this world will bring a family to its knees faster than a debilitating medical condition — but one teenager and his family refused to be blindsided, no matter what life throws at them.

Since sons started putting on pads and hitting the football field, mothers have sat on the sidelines, part petrified and for the most part, proud. Angela MacFarlan is more emotional than most moms when she watches her son Dylan, #51.

“Really proud. He’s a good kid. He’s my baby,” MacFarlan said.

MacFarlan says she’ll never forget those difficult days after Dylan was born. Dylan was born with a failing left eye. He had his first surgery at three weeks old, but no amount of surgeries could bring his vision back.

Years later, Dylan pushed to play football as an eighth-grader at Whitefish Bay Middle School. 

“I was scared, because he only has one eye. Basically, he has no vision,” MacFarlan said.

What Dylan does have is supportive parents and a supportive coach, Carl Fuda. Fuda says his biggest concern after finding Dylan a helmet that would fit over his protective glasses was teaching him the basics of a game he’s never played before.

“The first couple of scrimmages were tough. The first game was tough too, but the second game of the season, he came on in the first quarter, and played the rest of the game at D-line for us,” Fuda said.

Fuda says the team makes adjustments to accommodate Dylan.

“We have him line up on the side of the ball where he can see the ball, and he points that out, and the kids point that out too: ‘hey coach, wrong side for Dylan,'” Fuda said.

Dylan says he’s only recently begun to find his place at school, thanks to a whole team of new friends.

“He’s gone to Whitefish Bay Schools since K4 and he finally felt this year like it mattered,” MacFarlan said.

“I thought it was me. I thought I was weird or there was something wrong. It’s just that people didn’t get to know me that well,” Dylan said.

For Dylan and his family, football is not just about social acceptance. 

Dylan’s dad has chronic lymphocytic leukemia — a cancer of the blood. Eventually, Dylan’s dad will need treatment such as chemotherapy, but before those darker days come, Dylan and his dad plan to enjoy every minute of their football fix.

“If my dad doesn’t get through this, I just want my dad to be proud of me for doing something I haven’t done before,” Dylan said.

Meanwhile, mom has been cheering on both of her boys every step of the way.

“The whole experience, it’s been amazing,” MacFarlan said.

Dylan says he plans on trying to play football in high school next year. He says he really doesn’t care how far he gets with it, but adds that he just enjoys being part of a team and sharing football with his dad.

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