Two months after a quick interaction with an opposing team’s fan, Brian “Red” Hamilton conducted a social media search to find the woman who potentially saved his life.
On Saturday, Hamilton met his hero, a future medical student named Nadia Popovici.
During the Seattle Kraken’s first-ever home game against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 23, Hamilton, the Canucks equipment manager, cleared the bench of iPads and gloves and, when he turned around, saw Popovici holding her phone up to the glass with a message in a large, colorful font.
She told Hamilton that the mole on the back of his neck could be cancerous.
“I put ‘mole,’ ‘doctor’ and ‘cancer’ in red and made them bold,” Popovici told Good Morning America, which she and Hamilton appeared on Monday.
Hamilton read it, nodded and turned back to do his job.
“I felt bad in the moment, because I’m walking off the bench and she put her phone up to the glass and her phone said, ‘The mole on the back of your neck is cancer,'” Hamilton said. “It threw me off. I kind of just shrugged and kept going. My inital response when I found out was, I felt bad because I felt like I didn’t really give her the time of day.”
A few days after the game, Hamilton got his mole biopsied and found out he had malignant melanoma in situ, meaning the cancer cells were only on the outer layer of Hamilton’s skin and detected very early. Hamilton has since had it removed.
“I didn’t know it was there,” Hamilton said. “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.
“She’s a hero.”
To thank Popovici, the Kraken and Canucks teamed up to award Popovici a $10,000 scholarship toward medical school, which she plans to attend this year. It was announced during the game Saturday and garnered a stunned reaction from her, clad in a Brandon Tanev home jersey and unique knitted Kraken octopus hat.
To find Popovici and properly thank her, Hamilton posted a letter on the Canucks Twitter. Eventually, word got through to a Kraken fan Facebook page and the pair had an emotional reunion on Saturday.
“I want you all to know that this isn’t about me,” Hamilton wrote in the letter. “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.”
“She extended my life,” Hamilton said. “I’ve got a wonderful family. I’ve got a wonderful daughter. She saved my life. She didn’t take me out of a burning car, but she took me out of a slow fire.The words out of the doctor’s mouth were that if I ignored [the mole] for four to five years, I wouldn’t be here.”
— NHL.com Independent Correspondent Andrew Eide contributed to this report.