‘A hero’: Hockey fan spots cancerous mole during NHL game, saves staffer's life

In a press conference this Saturday, Hamilton broke down in gratitude for the young fan. “She took me out of a slow fire,” he said. “And the words out of the doctor’s mouth were if I ignored that for four to five years, I wouldn’t be here.”
Nadia Popovici (L) is embraced by Vancouver Canucks's assistant equipment manager, Brian Hamilton, in Seattle on January 1, 2022. (AFP)
Nadia Popovici (L) is embraced by Vancouver Canucks's assistant equipment manager, Brian Hamilton, in Seattle on January 1, 2022. (AFP)
Published on Jan 03, 2022 08:47 AM IST
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Written by Joydeep Bose, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

In an intriguing development from North America, a hockey fan ended up saving the life of a team staffer after happening to spot a cancerous mole on the latter's neck. Describing the fan as “a hero”, Brian Hamilton – the assistant equipment manager for the Vancouver Canucks ice hockey team – expressed his gratitude and noted how one message had changed his entire life and saved him from near-certain death a few years down the line.

Vancouver Canucks, a professional ice hockey team based in Canada, was competing in a National Hockey League (NHL) game against the Seattle Kraken on October 23 when Nadia Popovici, a fan sitting close to a team bench, spotted a small mole on the back of Hamilton's neck.

The mole, measuring “about two centimeters and was irregularly shaped and red-brown in color”, would probably have gone unnoticed had it been anyone else, but on that day it did come across Popovici, a future medical student volunteering at hospitals as a nursing assistant and trained to spot such potentially cancerous moles.

The 22-year-old Popovici told her parents “I need to tell him” and, in a brief second, typed a message on her phone – "The mole on the back of your neck is possibly cancerous. Please go see a doctor!”

She patiently waited for the game to end, waved several times to draw Hamilton's attention, and finally placed her phone against the plexiglass for the Nucks staffer to read her text, which had the words “mole,” “cancer” and “doctor” colored in bright red.

Seattle Kraken fan Nadia Popovici, upper left, gestures toward Vancouver Canucks assistant equipment manager Brian "Red" Hamilton, second from left, after they were introduced during the first period of an NHL hockey game. (AP)
Seattle Kraken fan Nadia Popovici, upper left, gestures toward Vancouver Canucks assistant equipment manager Brian "Red" Hamilton, second from left, after they were introduced during the first period of an NHL hockey game. (AP)

“Well, that's weird,” Hamilton remembered saying to himself after he saw the message, according to recollections later narrated to The New York Times. However, he didn't entirely dismiss the text, later going home and consulting his partner if the mole was indeed there.

It only took a subsequent biopsy result to confirm that the fan sitting behind the team’s bench had been right and that she indeed just saved his life.

In a press conference this Saturday, Hamilton broke down in gratitude for the young fan. “She took me out of a slow fire,” he said. “And the words out of the doctor’s mouth were if I ignored that for four to five years, I wouldn’t be here.”

The mole, according to Hamilton's physicians, was a type-2 malignant melanoma, a form of skin cancer that can be removed and treated safely once detected early, but also has the potential to turn fatal if left unchecked.

Hamilton later sought out his “hero”, the 22-year-old Popovici, and met her in person. The young fan, too, acknowledged the rare happenstance and said that she will “just cherish” the entire experience.

In the meanwhile, both Vancouver Canucks and the Seattle Kraken have decided to present Popovici with a combined scholarship of $10,000 for her medical school expenses in acceptance of the miraculous, lifesaving diagnosis during the match.

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