Portsmouth – Recently, DJ Wise experienced a fairy-tale day on a midweek trip to Pittsburgh. The huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan from Portsmouth was born with the rare brain condition Alobar Holoprosencephaly. At birth, the prognosis was grim because many people born with this disease don’t live to be older than four years old.
More than three decades later, though, the 31 year old was having the time of his life watching the Steelers battle the Carolina Panthers in the Steelers final preseason game on Thursday, August 30. Pittsburgh beating Carolina 39-24 was just the icing on the cake. Wise and his parents, Don and Donna Wise, along with DJ’s brother, Corey, had passes to enter the and mingle on Heinz Field about 90 minutes before kickoff. DJ had a sharp looking Steelers gold, white and brown football autographed by members of the team. They were also photographed with team members such as Roosevelt Nix, Cam Heyward, TJ Watt and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The trip was organized by Pittsburgh Steelers super-fan Shawn Spinda. Spinda lives in Ashland, Kentucky, and every year he arranges a trip for an individual with special needs to attend a Steelers game. For several years, Spinda has set up autograph signings and golf outings for former and present Pittsburgh Steelers, and other professional athletes.
A group of die-hard fans known as the Renegade Tailgate Family were among those that pitched in to make Wise’s dream come true. The group’s favorite past-time activity is supporting the Steelers, coming from near and far with some traveling to Pittsburgh, all the way from South Carolina.
The Wise’s left Portsmouth on August 28 and followed Spinda from his Ashland home, which is filled with Steelers memorabilia, all the way to Pittsburgh. They were accommodated two free nights lodging at a Pittsburgh hotel, a food allowance, gas money, free jerseys, free game tickets and free parking. Before the trip, Spinda said they were going to, “Steeler him (DJ) up at the Steelers store (Yinzers).”
Finding a Super Bowl Champion in Steeltown was a cinch for the Wise’s. They visited with former Steeler JT Thomas Jr. at Crazy Mocha, the coffee shop the four-time Super Bowl champion and multiple time pro-bowler owns in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. They also had dinner with former Steeler Dwayne Woodruff at Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36. Bettis, a Super Bowl champion and member of the Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Team wasn’t there, but Mrs. Wise said the family got to talk to Miss Pennsylvania there.
One highlight of the trip was the quality time DJ spent with Dwayne Woodruff. “He was a very sweet man,” Mrs. Wise said. Woodruff’s now known as Judge Woodruff, since he’s a long time judge in Pittsburgh. The former University of Louisville star became a Super Bowl Champion in his first season with the Steelers. “He loved meeting the players,” Donna Wise said. “Mom, it was the best trip ever,” DJ told his mother.
On Friday, the family embarked on the roughly 270 mile trip home to Portsmouth. The fun time also helped Don Wise to get his mind off of having cancer. Upon returning home, Mr. and Mrs. Wise were set to leave for Columbus for a medical appointment for Mr. Wise and go to a doctor’s appointment for DJ. “We don’t know how much time we have left with him (DJ),” Mrs. Wise said.
Just days before going to Pittsburgh, Mr. and Mrs. Wise were in Columbus, “With all kinds of tests. They’re pretty sure he has a tumor on his brain between his left ear and temple,” Mrs. Wise said. Mr. Wise has a pacemaker-defibrillator combo because of the condition that his heart is in. Doctors are hesitant to perform a surgery on Mr. Wise because they are unsure he would be able to make it through.
“There’s got to be a special place in Heaven for Shawn (Spinda),” Donna Wise said. “There’s no words to explain what a sweet person he is, he’s a great guy. He’s got a heart of gold,” she said, adding, “Didn’t even know us. I believe God put our paths together. I really thank God that they (DJ and Mr. Wise) got to spend this time together and do something so wonderful.” She also thanked everyone who helped make the trip happen.
Mrs. Wise said, “You might want to put in there, you have to remember, DJ may be 31, but mentally he’s about 8.” She said DJ asked her, “Mom, can I get some Christmas cards like Andrew did?” DJ was best friends with Andrew “Hollywood” Peck, the 10 year old from Wheelersburg that received 26,000 Christmas cards before his death on Christmas Eve in 2015. If anyone would like to send DJ a card, they may be mailed to 2509 Thomas Avenue, Portsmouth, Ohio 45622.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT