(Photo: Andy Collins)
Several weeks ago Presli Collins, a 10-year-old girl with a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow in her body, spent five hours with Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow as his "date" at the Cartoon Network Hall of Game Awards show in California. Little did her family know at the time, however, that Presli would become the face of her condition, at least for a few weeks, as a result.
Andy Collins, Presli's father, told The Christian Post on Saturday that he was "speechless" when he received the call from Dreams Come True, the organization that manages the Tim Tebow Foundation's Wish 15 program, to tell him that he and Presli would be meeting Tebow.
Presli is afflicted with a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis-1 (NF1), which in her case caused her to develop tumors along her spine that forced her to have surgery on both her brain and her back. Today she has three tumors inside her torso, which doctors say they will leave for now, and has to receive an MRI brain scan every six months to a year to monitor her condition.
Presli has already endured many physical hardships in her decade-long life, so when it came time to meet Tebow, she didn't break a sweat. When Andy asked her on the flight from Denver to Los Angeles if she was nervous, she replied, "No, I'm just really happy right now daddy."
Once they met up with Tebow they went to the awards show, where Presli walked the green carpet and spoke with reporters alongside the quarterback. They stayed for the two hour long taping of the show, then attended the after party, where Tebow and Presli shot Nerf guns, took photos in front of a green screen and ate together.
"I would say 90 percent of that evening Tim was by her side, holding her hand, taking her through the food line, taking her for dessert," said Andy.
When the Collins' returned home to Denver, they were interviewed by two local television stations. Andy thought the media attention would end there, since the NFL is in its off-season right now, but he was wrong.
They have since done interviews with newspapers and television stations from Florida, Washington, Indiana, Illinois, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. On the national media scene, the Collins family has been interviewed by HLN and "Fox and Friends," and their story has also been run by "Good Morning America."
Before parting ways with Tebow, Andy had a chance to talk to him about how success has impacted his life.
"He knows what's required. And he knows he's given up the fact that he can't go to the grocery store...But he says, 'Without giving up that, I don't have the platform to do this,'" said Andy.
Taking a cue from the Christian quarterback, Andy began asking God why he had been given the opportunity to speak to so many media outlets. He now says that reason is so he can help promote NF1 awareness.
John Risner, president of the Children's Tumor Foundation (CTF), told CP on Monday that there are three classes of neurofibromatosis, and 90 percent of cases are NF1. Approximately one out of every 3,000 people born is afflicted with NF, and an estimated 110,000 people in the U.S. have the condition today.
Risner also says he hopes that Presli's story will make people more aware of the condition. CTF has even placed a photo of Presli and Tebow at the top of the organization's website.
"Certainly it's a huge awareness boost for NF. People read a story like that, it makes them a little more caring about children that are facing any kind of disadvantage in their life," said Risner.
"While we all can't be Tim Tebow," he later stated, "we all can do something in our lives to make our fellow human being's lives easier."
Since their meeting with Tebow, the "Pray for Presli" Facebook page has jumped from 1,700 "likes" to over 15,000. Andy says the people who have "liked" the page over the last few weeks include Tebow fans and NF patients from around the world.
Presli told CP that the best part about her weekend with Tebow was "just meeting him and spending time with him." She says she didn't like football much before they met, but now she likes it "a lot."