Crews spent all morning on 62nd Street, in Tampa turning hundreds of bags of ice into 8 tons of snow, and it was all to surprise a U.S. Army veteran.
Albert Septien was moved to tears of joy, but this past year has brought tears of another kind to him.
“This year has been hell because I have never been sick in my life and now here I am,” Septien told WOFL.
Septien was diagnosed with stage four melanoma, believed to be caused by his exposure to Agent Orange during his time in the service. The veteran served in Vietnam for a year and was responsible for recovering bodies after the Tet Offensive ended in September 1968.
The diagnosis was made in May and then, a day after Thanksgiving, Septien found out the cancer had metastasized, the paper reported. Doctors told him this will be his last Christmas, so his cousin, Joe Maestre, wanted to make it extra special.
“I asked him, ‘What would you like for Christmas?’” Maestre said. “And he says, ‘I want to make a snow angel.’ I said, ‘Well, you got it, you got it.’ And he laughed! He said to me, ‘In Tampa? You’re crazy.'”
Septien was born in Cuba but raised in Connecticut and New York. He grew up making snowmen and shoveling snow. But he has lived in Florida now for years and not seen snow around Christmas for a long time.
Maestre was up for the challenge and the moment Septien walked outside to see the wintry wonderland was worth every moment of preparation.
“I don’t think there’s words to explain it,” Maestre said. “The look on his face, the feeling in his heart. The tears that he had. This has been the most wonderful day in the last year.”
The veteran reportedly said the treatment has caused burning sensations all over his body and feels like he has a built-in furnace. Living in Florida with the heat makes it even worse, he said.
“When I laid down in that snow, it felt really good,” Septien said.
“I’m just happy that we were able to put this all together and all the people that really reached out to remember a Vietnam veteran,” Maestre said. “That to me means so, so much.”