Thanks to a young ice hockey fan’s life-saving observation, Vancouver Canucks assistant equipment manager Brian “Red” Hamilton is now cancer-free.
Nadia Popovici sat behind Hamilton’s bench during the Seattle Kraken’s home opener at Climate Pledge Arena on October 23.
As she watched the game, the 22-year-old couldn’t help but notice a weird-looking mole on the back of Hamilton’s neck.
Popovici, a 2019 University of Washington grad, was heading to medical school. She had seen many cases of melanoma while volunteering at hospitals. The one on Hamilton was large, discolored, and raised with an “irregular border,” so she knew it was something serious.
Popovici knew Hamilton had to know, so she typed out a message on her phone and knocked on the plexiglass to get the man’s attention. Popovici warned Hamilton that the mole at the back of his neck was cancerous.
“He kind of glanced at my phone and walked away and I thought maybe he’d already seen it,” she recalled. “Maybe he’d already gotten it checked out by a doctor, it’s probably fine.”
But Hamilton actually didn’t know about the mole’s existence, and he is extremely grateful to Popovici for letting him know about it.
The equipment manager remembered that the message wasn’t typed like a text; Popovici had put more effort into making the font look bigger and colorful, which really got his attention.
“I saw the message but I looked at her and I was like ‘OK,’ and then I just kept walking,” he said. “I’m sure if there’s footage as I’m walking down the bench, like I’m rubbing the back of my neck because I didn’t even know.”
After the Canucks returned from their flight, the equipment manager questioned his wife to see if there was a mole. He said he did have one so the equipment manager contacted Dr. Jim Bovard who removed it and sent the biopsy sample.
Popovici’s speculations were confirmed as the test revealed that the mole was a type-2 malignant melanoma, which means it hadn’t penetrated the second layer of the skin yet. Doctors removed a larger portion of the mole and all subsequent tests have been negative.
Doctors told Hamilton that he wouldn’t be here if he had ignored the mole for another four to five years.
“She extended my life,” Hamilton said in a Zoom press conference. “I’ve got a wonderful family, I’ve got a wonderful daughter and I just think like, she extended my life. She didn’t take me out of a burning car like the big stories but she took me out of a slow fire.”
Hamilton never got the fan’s name, so he composed a letter and asked for help from the hockey community to find his “real-life hero.”
“I want you all to know that this isn’t about me,” Hamilton wrote. “It’s about an incredible person taking the time to notice something concerning and then finding a way to point it out during the chaos of a hockey game. Going to great lengths to get my attention from the stands while I did my job on the Canucks bench.”
The Vancouver Canucks Twitter account shared Hamilton’s heartfelt letter, and within two hours of posting, Popovici was identified via a Kraken fan Facebook group.
Popovici stated that she had spoken to her mother Yukyung Nelson a few times about Hamilton, asking how he was doing, and if he had had the mole checked out.
Popovici did not expect to hear any more about it until she became viral on Twitter several months later.
They reunited Saturday, just before the Canucks-Kraken match in Seattle. Popovici received a $10,000 scholarship from the teams to help her pay for medical school.
This story shows that people can do great things if they look out for one another. Popovici deserves credit for reaching out and saving the life a stranger.
Hear Hamilton and Popovici talk about their amazing story in the video below.
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