Transformed by Tragedy, Family Persists in Helping Others

Oliver and Jamie Wyss and their daughter Abella host a fundraiser to benefit children’s hospitals tonight at Laguna Beach’s Seven Degrees event center.

By Justin Swanson, Special to the Independent

Fifteen years ago, professional soccer player Oliver Wyss’ life was upended. Diagnosed with a rare bone marrow failure, aplastic anemia, the former Laguna Beach resident survived but was forced to quit his career on the pitch. In the wake of the life-altering encounter, Wyss heard the calling to give back and so with his wife Jamie started Laguna Hills-based Soccer For Hope, to raise awareness about life-threatening diseases that affect children.

Tragedy later struck the Wyss family again in 2005.  A cancer gene was found in both of their children, which took the life of the younger and has stricken the life of the elder, a now-10-year old faced with more than a life’s worth of battles with a scourge of tumors.  And so, for the Wyss’ foundation, an even greater personal mission was born.

“My motto is: make the best of life no matter how impossible it seems to be,” states Wyss.  “I’m not the kind of person who feels sorry for his self; I try to tackle challenges.”

He is hoping to enlist others in his cause this Friday, Oct. 12, when Soccer For Hope hosts a 6 to 11 p.m. fundraiser, “Evening of Hope,” at Laguna Beach’s Seven Degrees event center. Six child patients will be in attendance. Attendees will have the opportunity to participate in auctions. Proceeds support the Soccer For Hope foundation, which raises $200,000 annually for children’s hospitals among other recipients.

What started as a charitable soccer camp for kids soon developed as something much larger.  “We realized we had a lot of connections, so we were able to grow,” says Mrs. Wyss.

The purpose of the foundation found more sober import for the Wyss family in 2005 when their 10-month old son Hudson developed a rare, cancerous brain tumor. Their then 4-year old daughter Abella also tested positive for the “cancer gene.”

While Hudson died after three years of treatments and recurring tumors, his sister carried on in a similar fight beyond her years. “It opened my eyes to how important the need of giving back is,” Mr. Wyss says. “It is already tough to see what Abella goes through and then see all the other children at the hospital,” explains Mrs. Wyss.

In the face of adversity, the family opens its arms to giving and asks others to give too.  “The most important thing is, despite hardship, you can do so much good in the meantime,” says Mr. Wyss.

After their son died, the couple moved to Laguna’s Three Arch Bay to “take time to recover” and bond as a family.  “Fundraising and helping became a part of the healing process,” Mrs. Wyss explains.

They since moved to Laguna Niguel. Subsequently, Abella she has undergone numerous treatments for cancerous growths, an adrenal tumor and lung tumors. She is to undergo lung surgery and high-dose chemotherapy later this month. All told, she has undergone 11 surgeries, this by the age of 10.

Still, “She loves to laugh and be joyful. She loves giving back and being involved.  Her one wish is for ‘all the children to be able to leave the hospital.’  She is selfless and she is a treasure to us,” her mother says. (She makes her screen debut as an actress this December in “Playing For Keeps” with Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel).

“You think about what she’s gone through and she still has a positive attitude and wants to give back,” beams her father. “She is the biggest gift.  Her character and outlook on life are simply amazing.”

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