Celebrity for a day: Inspired by Make-A-Wish, mom wants to make son ‘famous’

Gabriel Matos hugs Star Wars droid BB-8 during a visit to Disney World.

Gabriel Matos wants to be famous, and he will be next month. At least for the day.

On Aug. 4, the 6-year-old Kissimmee boy gets to play the part of a celebrity at his church after Sunday services. The service at will be at 10 a.m., Gabriel's event will be at 10:45 a.m. The church is at Life Church - Assembly of God

2269 Partin Settlement Road, Kissimmee.

The next day he and his family set sail on a Stars Wars themed cruise. It’s two wishes come true for Gabriel, who was born with a life-threatening heart condition. He had his first open-heart surgery at just nine days old, has had two more since then and will undergo more in the future. He ate through a feeding tube for the first three years of his life because his throat was partially paralyzed from intubation.

“We almost lost him during two of the surgeries,” said his mother, Jen Matos. He doesn’t look sick, but “he still has lots of challenges with eating and playing.”

The Make-A-Wish Foundation in April granted Gabriel his first wish, the cruise. The children served by the venerable nonprofit are asked to make three wishes and are granted one. The extra two are backups.

“Our whole family loves Star Wars. But Gabriel and my oldest son are fanatics,” said Matos, who has three other children.

His second wish was to be famous. She decided it was something she could make happen for her son. He’s a big fan of the actor and WWE wrestler John Cena, and wants to have his own YouTube channel one day.

So she started planning a party where Gabriel would be treated like a celebrity.

“I thought it would be good to do before we left on the cruise; a good send-off,” said Matos.

She got her husband and her pastor on board, and then came the 501st Legion, a group of Star Wars enthusiasts who do appearances in intricate Star Trooper and Darth Vader costumes. The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office and Osceola County Fire Rescue then agreed to participate.

“I got so inspired when everyone started agreeing to come that it pushed me to do more,” Matos said. “They’re really going all out for us.”

Tampa-based Christian music artist Heather Williams has agreed to perform and volunteers from Costumers With a Cause will also be there to help make the party special for Gabriel, whose life hasn’t been easy.

He was diagnosed with hypoplastic right heart syndrome at a week old after Matos insisted that her third child was not healthy.

“When I brought him to the doctor that first week I knew something was wrong,” Matos said, but it took several days for the diagnosis, so he went without the proper oxygen for the first seven days of his life.

Gabriel graduated from kindergarten at Life Christian Academy this year with daily assistance from his mom, who got a job at the school just before he started.

“He would come see me a lot. He would take little naps in the back of the classroom and feel better after an hour,” said Matos, who quit her full-time job at a convenience store after Gabriel was born so she could care for him.

He tires easily and doesn’t eat much. He likes to play but can’t roughhouse. He plays baseball but must wear a chest guard. He’ll never be able to play contact sports.

“He pretty much knows his limits but sometimes he forgets,” said Matos. “I let him try to experience everything but I’m so nervous.”

Gabriel’s older brother, Eddie, and older sister, Maya, 14 and 11, respectively, have always helped their parents care for Gabriel.

“His sister is like his little doctor,” said Matos. “She and her older brother know how to do most everything for Gabriel. They can administer shots and change tubes.”

But with the party and cruise coming up, there’s a sense of excitement building in the Matos home these days.

“Gabriel doesn’t know a lot of the people who are coming, so it’s gonna be a great surprise for him,” she said. “Anybody who wants to celebrate our miracle or bring awareness to heart conditions is welcome.”