St. Jude patient scores heartwarming encounter with legendary NFL quarterback Tony Romo

An avid Dallas Cowboys fan, Matthew never dreamed he’d meet his hero. Turns out, Tony Romo thinks kids at St. Jude like Matthew are the heroes.

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Matthew and Tony Romo on the red carpet at the 19th Annual Legends for Charity® Dinner at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Feb. 8

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Matthew Mora is a believer.

But the young man in a tuxedo waiting nervously in front of the cameras, a microphone in one hand, notecards in the other, on the red carpet at the 19th Annual Legends for Charity® Dinner at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Feb. 8 never would have imagined this. 

A rabid Dallas Cowboys fan, Matthew grew up watching legendary quarterback Tony Romo play, all 14 seasons. Even when he was 8 and in treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for a cancerous brain tumor, he never missed a game. 

“I have seen him so many times, as a player giving post-game interviews and in the booth, always on TV, and I’m like, ‘Wow, this guy seems super nice,’” Matthew said. He admired his leadership, on and off the field. 

Now 27, Matthew was minutes from meeting Romo in person.

A cheer went up when Romo arrived. The event, where Romo would receive the prestigious Pat Summerall Award for his broadcasting work, has raised more than $12 million for St. Jude since 2005. 

Matthew, who was treated at St.Jude Children's Hospital for medulloblastoma

“One thing that I loved watching about him as a commentator, I feel like since he used to be a player, he just has a different feel for the game, predicting the exact play before the play even happens,” Matthew said.

His whole family is into sports — playing and watching. His dad, Tino, coached his and his older brother Joey’s soccer teams. When the family watched Cowboys games, his mom, Iliana, always pulled on her pink Cowboys jersey with “ROMO” on the back. 

Matthew was 8 when his parents noticed his right eye would veer outward sporadically, blurring his vision and leaving him nauseous and vomiting. 

His parents took him to the doctor and then, over the next few weeks, an optometrist, an ophthalmologist and, finally, a specialist who sent Matthew to the hospital for a CT scan. 

The CT scan revealed a tumor the size of a golf ball in Matthew’s head. The doctor suspected it was medulloblastoma, a cancerous brain tumor.

“We were scared before, and we were definitely scared then,” Tino said. 

Matthew had surgery the next day to remove it. A pediatric oncologist confirmed it was medulloblastoma. 

Matthew, who was treated at St.Jude Children's Hospital for medulloblastoma

Matthew was referred to St. Jude, where the St. Jude Brain Tumor Program is a worldwide leader in medulloblastoma therapy and research in children, its clinicians and researchers among the most cited in their fields. 

At St. Jude, “We felt like we were in the right place, and this was going to be his best chance of surviving,” Tino said. The staff answered all their questions and developed a plan for Matthew’s treatment, including radiation therapy and four rounds of chemotherapy. 

After chemotherapy, Matthew showed no evidence of disease. Six months later, with his scans still clear, he was considered in remission and cancer-free ever since. 

After treatment, Matthew tried playing recreational soccer and flag football but couldn’t keep up with the other kids. Treatment damaged his pituitary gland, stunting his growth. His hand-eye coordination and balance were off. Matthew has some hearing loss.

He’s smart, though memory issues mean it can take longer and more effort to learn some things. Matthew memorized the questions he wanted to ask Romo.  

None of it quelled his love of sports.

Matthew, who was treated at St.Jude Children's Hospital for medulloblastoma

He turned out to be a great bowler, playing in leagues and on his high school team, even winning a tournament. In high school, the football coach tapped him to help manage the team.  

“I just like the action,” Matthew said. It’s why he works as an assistant to a physical education teacher at an elementary school, sharing his love of sports with kids.

Now Matthew watched as Romo worked his way through a crowd of well-wishers including NFL broadcasters, players, VIPs and celebrities. Romo spotted Matthew on the red carpet and made a beeline for him.  

“Why do you look so cool?” Romo asked, reaching to shake Matthew’s hand. 

“First of all, Tony, I just want to say, I’ve been a huge, huge Cowboys fan my whole life — and an even bigger Tony Romo fan,” Matthew started. 

“Aw, get over here,” Romo said, pulling Matthew into a hug.

Matthew, who was treated at St.Jude Children's Hospital for medulloblastoma

Matthew told Romo he was a childhood cancer survivor and a St. Jude patient before asking what it meant to Romo to be receiving the Pat Summerall Award and at the same time supporting St. Jude.  

“It’s an incredible honor, and you know from personal experience, Matthew, just what St. Jude does,” Romo said. St. Jude provides the support families need at the worst time of their lives.

“Someone is there to give you a helping hand,” Romo said. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing, or food — so they can focus on helping their children live.  

“I’m glad you’re here right now,” Romo told Matthew.

“All because of St. Jude of course,” Matthew said.  

He then asked Romo how Pat Summerall inspired him, on and off the field.

“Pat was like the voice of my generation growing up, and for me, listening to Pat, I can still remember him…” Romo said, lowering his voice to imitate the legendary broadcaster’s baritone, “I’m Pat Summerall. Ready, team? Now let’s go to the leader board.” Matthew cracked up.  

Matthew, who was treated at St.Jude Children's Hospital for medulloblastoma

Romo told Matthew he felt fortunate to help St. Jude because it’s for kids and supported almost entirely by donations.

“This is all built by the people who are coming tonight, the people across the world who donate and just want kids to have a chance and for families to be together,” Romo said.  

Romo runs a free football camp for kids every year, and Matthew asked why that is important to him.

Again, it’s for the kids, Romo said. “They’re just trying to have their place in the world, and I just want to see them have a chance.” 

“And hopefully,” Matthew said, “one day they’ll all get to be as great as Tony Romo, right?”

“Or as great as Matthew,” Romo said. 

Matthew held tight to the football Romo signed, “To Matthew, you’re the man! God bless,” along with his name and #9, the number Romo wore for the Cowboys. (Romo signed his mom’s pink Cowboys jersey, too.)

He still couldn’t believe he’d met Romo.  

“It’s one of those once in a lifetime experiences,” Matthew said. “You never think you’re actually going to able to meet your childhood hero. He’s amazing.”

Matthew was humbled by the number of people at the event who told him they were inspired by him. He felt like a celebrity himself.  

“I am a living example of what St. Jude can do,” Matthew said. “It’s always an honor to help St. Jude. As much as I try and as much as I want to give back to St. Jude, I’ll never be able to repay them for what they did for me and my family.” 

Matthew and Tony Romo on the red carpet at the 19th Annual Legends for Charity® Dinner at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Feb. 8

Later that evening, Matthew marveled as he watched the live auction to benefit St. Jude, a flurry of numbered placards rising into the air to donate. The event raised a record $2.1 million. 

“You get emotional, just seeing that number go up,” Matthew said. It made him think about what St. Jude founder Danny Thomas said, that no child should die in the dawn of life. 

“Hearing that number go up just makes me think we’re getting closer and closer to that dream,” Matthew said. With that kind of support, in one night, in one ballroom, at one of thousands of events benefitting St. Jude every year, Matthew said, “I have no doubt in my mind that it will happen.” 

He’s a believer.

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