Small kid, big heart, enormous inspiration

Jackson Hartman would have given fellow cancer patient Daniel McNamara the shirt off his back. Instead, he got an NBA superstar to do it.

Jackson1As is often the case with patients undergoing similar treatments, a bond formed between 12-year-old Jackson Hartman and 19-year-old Daniel McNamara in CHKD’s outpatient cancer center. Their visits often coincided, and Jackson got Daniel’s attention one day when he walked into the clinic wearing a Virginia Tech sweatshirt.

Daniel had been accepted to Virginia Tech and was prepared to begin his freshman year there when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, in his right leg. “Attending freshman orientation at Tech was just about the last thing I did before I was diagnosed,” Daniel says.

The two struck up a conversation about sports, and a friendship was born.

Daniel had played football and basketball at Cox High School in Virginia Beach and planned to try out for Virginia Tech’s football team. Jackson, who was undergoing treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma, told Daniel he hoped to play baseball for Princess Anne Middle School in the spring.

One day their conversation turned to the NBA, and Daniel told Jackson he was a huge fan of Kevin Durant, star player for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The wheels in Jackson’s head began to turn. His family had recently moved from Oklahoma City, and he knew the Thunder played once a year in Washington, D.C. Jackson was determined to find tickets for Daniel to that game. “I knew Daniel was too old to ask the Make-A-Wish Foundation for a favor,” Jackson says. “I figured I’d make Daniel’s wish come true.”

“I see this happen all the time,” says Bryan Sellitti, a CHKD Child Life Specialist who works closely with cancer patients. “The kids who come through our doors can be incredible little people.

“Surprisingly selfless acts are often even more common in teenagers,” says Sellitti. “I believe they see someone suffering and think to themselves, ‘You know, what I’m going through isn’t so bad.’ That’s usually when the most surprising, heartfelt things happen.”

A surprise is exactly what Jackson had in mind when he connected with friends online and found someone willing to donate two tickets to the game in D.C. Knowing Daniel was an inpatient at CHKD for some of his toughest chemotherapy sessions, Jackson planned to visit Daniel’s room one Friday afternoon to give him the news.

Jackson2Daniel’s nurses, knowing the reason for Jackson’s visit, hovered at Daniel’s door, peeking through the crack to see Daniel’s reaction. They weren’t disappointed when Daniel, shocked by Jackson’s gesture, broke into a huge grin.

As Jackson and Daniel posed for a picture, Jackson was asked how much fun he expected the two of them to have at the game.

“Oh, I’m not going,” Jackson said. “I got these tickets for Daniel and his dad.”

It was never Jackson’s intention to attend the game with Daniel or gain anything more than the pleasure of his friend’s surprised reaction. But when CHKD posted a picture of Jackson and Daniel on its Facebook fan page along with the story of Jackson's thoughtful generosity, a firestorm of activity ignited.

Within hours, thousands of people had viewed the post. Four more tickets were donated, allowing Jackson’s family to attend the game, too. At first, Jackson didn’t want to go, emphatically stating that the gesture was not meant to be about him. After much encouragement, however, Jackson decided to join Daniel on the journey to D.C.

But that wasn’t all. Daniel and Jackson were invited to the Thunder’s pregame shootaround as Kevin Durant’s special guests. At the conclusion of the shootaround, Durant visited with Daniel and gave him the shirt off his back, surrendering his actual warm-up jersey.

It was at that moment that Daniel says he truly felt the magnitude of Jackson’s generous spirit.

“Jackson is so outgoing and driven,” says Daniel. “To actually go out and make this happen for me was simply amazing. We definitely have a bond that can’t be broken.”

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This story was featured in the Spring 2013 issue of KidStuff, a publication of Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters.