Whirlwind isn’t the word for the weekend that police from Bergen County – particularly a Westwood patrolman and county sheriff’s officer — showed Nathan Norman, a 6-year-old cancer survivor from Virginia whose Christmas wish won hearts worldwide.
Try: hanging at the Yankee Stadium batting cage with Mariano Rivera and Robinson Cano, crossing the goal line at MetLife Stadium, taking a harbor boat cruise to the Statue of Liberty and riding an NYPD mount – in full police gear, including the visored helmet.
And that’s just for starters.
The seeds for Nathan’s Big Apple visit were planted last December, when the terminally ill youngster told his parents that his one Christmas wish was to receive holiday cards from New York’s first responders.
City police — being the hard-nosed types they are — assembled a huge collection of memorabilia, which they delivered along with a mountain of cards. It took several vans and other vehicles to carry it all.
Here in Bergen County, a group of New Jersey’s finest — led by Westwood Police Officer Scott McNiff and Bergen County Sheriff’s Officer Walter Hutchinson — sent their wishes, as well. That swelled the massive flood of cards the family has received from all corners of the globe to well over 100,000.
That turned out to be just the first step, though.
“We had wanted Nathan and his family to come to New York soon after Christmas, but it took a long time to set it up, especially for his doctors to say he could go,” McNiff told Cliffview Pilot this afternoon.
Nathan was two when he was diagnosed with brain cancer in January 2009. Surgery quickly followed to remove part of the tumor. He also received chemo from March through August of that year.
By fall of 2011, however, the tumor had progressed, joining one inside his spinal cord. Surgery removed some, but not all, of it. Meanwhile, the chemo continued.
Further progression has prompted the family to try the chemo drugs Temodar and Etoposide, as well as Revlimi.
Still, for every tough day, his folks say, Nathan “has so many more wonderful days.”
The youngster has received visits and packages from police, firefighters and rescue workers from other states, as well as the FBI, CIA and Secret Service. The Lynchburg College baseball team played baseball with Nathan, his three siblings and other local kids – in his backyard.
A memorable time was the goal of many who participated in Nathan’s weekend trip to New York City.
Last Wednesday, Bobby and Dawn Norman drove their four kids up to Pennsylvania to see their young friends from Camp Sunshine, an oncology camp they visit for a week each June.
On Friday, they were met and escorted from the Pennsylvania border through New Jersey by the Blue Knights Motorcycle Club.
Members of the NYPD Highway Patrol then took them to a Staten Island hotel that donated the rooms for their stay.
The arriving family was met by McNiff and two NYPD Emerald Society members played bagpipes, along with dozens of NYPD officers in full dress lined in formation. Also there were NYPD Lt. Stacy McCann and Sgt. Christopher DiToro, who handled all of the New York City events.
Soon after, the family hopped into a van supplied by Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino.
“Whatever you need, consider it done,” Saudino told McNiff — who, with Hutchinson, took on the bulk of organizing the weekend’s events with help from a city EMT who met Nathan after discovering that he, too, has cancer.
The caravan headed to MetLife Stadium, where the Norman family walked onto the field as every big screen in the stadium flashed welcoming messages from the New York Giants and Jets. Nathan and his siblings played with a football on the field — and even ran for a few touchdowns.
They also went into the Giants locker room before the youngsters were escorted into the stadium NFL Shop, where the Normans were told: “Whatever you want is yours.”
Besides gathering some Giants and Jets gear, they were also given goodies by NJSP troopers.
From there, it was on to Yankee Stadium – with one catch: Getting from East Rutherford to the Bronx isn’t a quick run even on a good day. But there was no way that Fort Lee Police were going to let Nathan miss his chance to take the field.
“Without Melissa Cuello getting me in touch with Capt. Pat Kellet, we would still be stuck in traffic trying to get to New York City,” Hutchinson said this morning.
Port Authority Police and the NYPD picked up the escort, getting Nathan there in plenty of time for batting practice. After a glimpse of Monument Park, Nathan was soon wearing Joe Girardi’s sunglasses and having fun with Robinson Cano and Rivera, among others.
The family also received lots of Yankee gear, courtesy of Modell’s Sporting Goods in Paramus, as well as huge goodie bags from the Yankees and free dinner at Legends Restaurant.
Then they sat behind home plate for pitcher Hiroki Kuroda’s 5-0 shutout of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Despite a 32-hour stretch without sleep, McNiff was back at Hutchinson’s New Milford home first thing Saturday morning. Soon after, they took the family to the FDNY/NYPD pier for a tour of Firefighter II, the most powerful fireboat in the world.
The group then boarded an NYPD Harbor boat, which took them to the Statue of Liberty – which Nathan at the controls a good portion of the ride.
From there, it was on to Floyd Bennett Field, where Nathan and his family rode city police mounts.
NYPD aviation pilots popped Nathan and his siblings into police helicopters and even let them try out a flight simulator. Outside the hangar, a helicopter swooped overhead, then hovered above the water while divers first jumped into the Hudson and then were hoisted back up via cable to simulate a water rescue.
Lunch was provided by the NYPD, along with plenty of shirts and goodies from the various units in special operations. McCann and DiToro also gave Nathan an engraved replica of the statue that stands in front of 1 Police Plaza of an officer and a child, courtesy of the 1st Deputy Police Commissioner himself.
Dinner was at Ben and Jack’s steakhouse in Manhattan, followed by a walk around Times Square and a visit to the police precinct there.
More city events followed yesterday, and ended this morning with an EMS breakfast, before the Normans headed home.
“It was totally grassroots, with so many people pitching in, “McNiff told Cliffview Pilot.
“All we did was ask for help,” McNiff said, “and as usual, brothers and sisters in uniform came to our aid without hesitation,” he said. “God bless the NJSP, NYPD, and all the other agencies that helped. And when they asked for help, civilians came to our aid: Met Life personnel, the Giants, Jets, Yankees, Ben and Jack’s.
“They are all amazing people,” McNiff said, “and we will never forget what they did for us.”
“We all made calls,” DiToro added, “but without the help of Giant/Jets, Yankee personnel, Mr Nicotra of the Hilton Garden Inn, etc., this event would not have been the huge success it was — a memorable weekend that will be very hard to top.”
“The idea was to make the weekend all about Nathan and his family and not about any of us,” McNiff concluded. “We hope this small example of the power of kindness will inspire others to do what they can to make the world a better place.”
With help from family and friends, parents Bobby and Dawn Norman recently created the group Hope for Tomorrow, aimed at giving families dealing with pediatric cancer reasons to believe. To do so, they plan on developing universal awareness, funding necessary research, lending support, expressing love through giving, sending information packs, & serving families in counseling.
It began with a simple gesture – asking police from his state to send cards to Nathan. The next thing he knew, it had gone viral.
“I just wanted to brighten his day and make his wish come true,” Carpentieri said. “It’s very simple just to put a stamp on something and send it out. That’s not asking for much.