During a game in October 2021, Brian “Red” Hamilton was going about his duties as assistant equipment manager for the Vancouver Canucks when a persistent fan caught his attention. Little did he know then how that seemingly insignificant moment would completely change his life. Hamilton was on the ice near the bench when a woman—who was sitting on the side of the opposing team, the Seattle Kraken—began banging on the glass. Used to being harassed by disgruntled fans, he could have easily ignored her attempts. But when he turned to see what she wanted, he was confronted with a message written in large colorful font warning him of a possibly cancerous mole on the back of his neck.
As it turns out, the fan’s instincts were correct. When Hamilton showed the mole to his doctors and had it biopsied, he found out that it was malignant melanoma in phase 2. Luckily, at that stage, the cancer was only on the outer layer of his skin and hadn’t penetrated any deeper. And thanks to the early detection of the issue, doctors were able to remove all traces of the disease. After such a fortunate outcome, Hamilton was acutely aware that the mysterious woman had done him an incredible service.
“She extended my life. She saved my life,” Hamilton said in an interview. “She didn't take me out of a burning car like the big stories, but she took me out of a slow fire. The words out of the doctor's mouth were if I ignored that for four to five years, I wouldn't be here. I didn't know it was there. She pointed it out. How she saw it boggles my mind. It wasn't very big. I wear a jacket, I wear a radio on the back of my jacket that hooks on, so the cords are there. Like, she's a hero.”
After recognizing this, Hamilton wanted to find the woman and let her know how much she had helped him. So he wrote an open letter to her and enlisted the help of “#HockeyTwitter” with a post on the Canucks’ page. “I am trying to find a very special person and I need the hockey community’s help,” the letter reads. “To this woman I am trying to find, you changed my life, and now I want to find you to say THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!” The woman was identified in record time as Nadia Popovici, a 22-year-old University of Washington graduate and aspiring physician.
Though Popovici was entirely unaware of the commotion she was generating on the internet as she slept off an overnight shift at a suicide hotline, her mother Yukyung Nelson saw the tweet when it was reposted in her Ladies of the Kraken Facebook group. “Oh my gosh!!! This was my daughter!!!” Nelson wrote. “She just got accepted into multiple medical schools. We have season tickets behind the opposing team and she noticed the mole on the back of his neck so she typed a message into her phone and knocked on the glass window to get his attention. She finally got his attention and he looked quickly and then nodded. We didn't think anymore of it. This is absolutely amazing!”
Thanks to the help of the internet, Hamilton and Popovici were able to meet when the Kraken and Canucks played each other again on Saturday night. About 90 minutes before the game, Hamilton was able to express his sincere gratitude for what Popovici had done in person. After putting in a lot of volunteer hours at hospitals, with a stint in an oncology ward, she had become familiar with the warning signs of cancerous moles. “I saw his and I was like, wow, that is a picture perfect example of what a melanoma looks like,” Popovici says. But the young soon-to-be med student had no clue that her message would have such an impact.
“The fact that I got to look him in the eye and hear what happened from his perspective,” she continues. “Imagine how jarring that is to for you to be at work and someone just kind of looks at you and says, ‘Hey, maybe you go see a doctor.’ That’s not what you want to hear. So the fact that I got to see him and talk to his family members that have been really impacted by him dodging a big bullet, that’s so special.”
In an even greater expression of gratitude, the Vancouver Canucks and Seattle Kraken joined together to give Popovici a $10,000 scholarship towards her medical school expenses. They announced the momentous award during the first period of the game, and the news was met with a standing ovation from the crowd. Popovici was left standing at her seat in disbelief and overcome with emotion.
It just goes to show how much one simple act can completely change a person’s life. And for Hamilton, this one meant everything. “I understand I’m a part of the story, but she needs to know she’s the story,” he explains. “She’s the person that did this. She saved the life…She needs to know her efforts were valid and bang on.”
Brian “Red” Hamilton, assistant equipment manager for the Vancouver Canucks, had his life saved by a persistent fan who noticed a cancerous mole on his neck during a game.
#HockeyTwitter, we need your help!
Please RT to spread the word and help us connect Red with the woman he considers his hero. pic.twitter.com/HlZybgOnjf
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) January 1, 2022
With the help of the internet, he was able to find the woman—22-year-old Nadia Popovici—and thank her in person for what she'd done.
The internet community helped us find Brian's hero, Nadia, and tonight they met in person where he got to express his sincerest thank you to her for saving his life.
A story of human compassion at its finest. pic.twitter.com/66ogo5hB1a
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) January 2, 2022
Out of gratitude, the Canucks and the Kraken even joined together to give Popovici a $10,000 scholarship for when she starts medical school next year.
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) January 2, 2022