By now, we’re all well aware of 7 year-old Jack Hoffman’s 69 yard touchdown run in the Nebraska Cornhuskers' spring game. That heart-warming story reminded me of Starla Chapman.
On September 13, 2011, Starla Chapman was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia – she was a month shy of three years old – and she began chemo the next day. AJ McCarron and his family met Starla and her family while visiting sick kids at the University of South Alabama Children’s and Women’s Hospital on Christmas Eve, 2011. AJ and Starla exchanged gifts that night: Starla, wearing her Alabama cheerleading uniform, gave AJ a bright yellow bracelet reading “Just Trust.”
By December 27, the chemo had damaged her heart to the point that she was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
On January 3, 2012, Starla suffered a seizure and died. Medical personnel successfully revived her after two minutes of chest compressions, but her heart was functioning at 6%; Starla’s doctors placed her in a medically induced coma. The reality facing this little girl was that her cancer and her cure were both killing her, and a heart transplant wasn’t an option due to the cancer. The doctors wanted to move her to Birmingham or Atlanta, but feared that she wouldn’t survive the trip.
We all know what happened in the Super Dome on January 9, 2012, but we might have missed the bright yellow bracelet AJ wore during that game, and has worn every day since.
A few days after the game, AJ was back at the hospital visiting Starla. By April 11, her cancer was in full remission. The chemo no longer necessary, her heart has returned to normal. Now a big sister, AJ's goddaughter is in pre-school.
Don’t get me wrong, I get as worked up over the competitive athletic prowess of 18-22 year old kids as anybody I know. Every now and then, however, we need to take a step back and regain some perspective. Whenever I get to feeling like there is nothing more important than that next first down, or nothing more terrible than an interception into the end zone to seal the loss, I take a look at that bright yellow bracelet.
To the Hoffman family, we're all with you.
Much of the information in this article comes from Mark Schlabach's outstanding piece "The quarterback and his girl," which can be found on www.espn.go.com.Information was also pulled from the Chapman family's facebook and CaringBridge pages.