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Woodbury boy’s wish sparks backyard flame

East Ridge High School student Drew Macke greets visitors last week at the unveiling of a backyard hangout area he received through the Make-A-Wish foundation. (Staff photo by Mike Longaecker)

Drew Macke has been saddled with an uncommon set of ailments since birth.

Those close to him have watched in wonder as he has tackled the painful health problems with grace and an unfailingly positive spirit.

Simply put, he doesn’t complain.

So when the 15-year-old Woodbury boy was presented with the opportunity to make a dream come true through the Make-A-Wish foundation, it came as little surprise that his wish would be bold.

Macke could have met a celebrity, gone on an African safari or taken a cruise. Knowing all those options, he called an audible.

The East Ridge High School student told Make-A-Wish officials he would like a backyard hangout area.

“A vacation comes and goes,” Macke said last week from the deck of his home, looking out on the finished product, “but that stays.”

The hangout area adds a dimension to the Macke home that his mother Holly Macke said creates a special realm for her son, his friends and the family.

“He’s a homebody,” she said.

Drew Macke is afflicted with the rare Vater Association condition – a complex set of health problems that have required more than 50 surgeries. The condition has kept him in hospitals around the country for more time than anyone should have to endure, his mother said.

“You forget to be a kid,” Holly Macke said, adding that he needs to be able to capture that experience. “This space is really going to do that for him.”

The new backyard space encompasses a sprawling patio surrounded by custom landscaping, a pergola with columns, a speaker system and comfy couches to sprawl out on. Drew Macke’s favorite feature, however, is the centerpiece – a custom-built chimney fireplace that was built to his specifications.

“It’s awesome,” he said, smiling at his new backyard.

Friends and family of the Mackes were drawn to the fireplace on Wednesday, Sept. 10, while attending a celebration in honor of the Make-A-Wish creation.

Also attending were crew members who worked on the project. Woodbury-based remodeling firm Ispiri served as the lead contractor and enlisted help from 15 other area businesses to help Drew Macke’s dream come true.

That work involved a significant amount of pro-bono help, said Woodbury resident Marsha Sampson, a wish granter for Make-A-Wish.

“We’re both astonished at the community outpouring for Andrew,” she said at last week’s event, where she was joined by fellow Woodbury resident and wish granter Mary Kay Libra.

Ispiri president Jason Fabio, a neighbor of the Mackes, enlisted his firm without pause and soon had the help of Ami Johannson of Root Stock Landscape Design.

As someone who does landscape projects for a living, Johannson said it’s easy to get caught up in the details. The Macke project served as an important reminder, she said.

“We can do stuff in our industry that does matter and is important,” Johannson said.

The workers logged long hours – often working weekends – as they carefully crafted the new setting, Holly Macke said. But like her son, she never heard a complaint.

Far from it.

“They just loved being part of something they’d never been exposed to,” she said.

Though it’s possible some of Drew Macke’s upbeat spirit rubbed off on them.

Each time crews would arrive to work, the boy would walk out and greet them, his mother said.

“He is a very personable young man,” Sampson said.

She and Holly Macke acknowledged that Drew’s request was unusual – perhaps even a first, Sampson said.

“I’d never heard of it happening before,” she said.

But considering the possibilities the new space allows, which include warming up to the fire in between sledding runs down the Mackes’ backyard hill, it was a fitting decision, Holly said.

“I just think it couldn’t have been more of a perfect choice for Andrew,” she said.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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