hockey, canucks, kraken, canucks kraken

Nadia Popovici's life-saving message at the Kraken/Canucks game in Seattle via Twitter

This story originally appeared on 01.06.22


Hockey fan Nadia Popovici had been watching the Vancouver Canucks play the Seattle Kraken when she noticed something offputting from the stands that set off alarms from her training as a medical student.

As Canucks assistant equipment manager Brian Hamilton approached the bench, Popovici noticed a small mole on the back of his neck. The marking might have seemed innocent enough, but thanks to her experience volunteering for oncology wards, Popovici recognized the potential danger lurking. So, she quickly took action.

“The mole on the back of your neck is cancer,” read Popovici’s message in big boldly colored letters on her phone screen. It took a few attempts to get her message across during the hustle and bustle of the game, but she eventually got Hamiliton’s attention through the plexiglass.

And sure enough, her on-the-spot prognosis was right.

Hamilton received a biopsy which confirmed that the mole had been cancerous. And if it had gone unaddressed, it would have been life-threatening.


"It was only on the outer layer of my skin,'' Hamilton recalled at a news conference. "It hadn't penetrated to the second layer of my skin and that's because we caught it so early…And the words out of the doctor’s mouth were if I ignored that for four to five years, I wouldn’t be here.”

Moved by this stranger’s act of kindness, Hamilton wrote a heartfelt letter on social media in an attempt to reunite with the woman who saved his life.

His letter read:

"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! Problem is, I don’t know who you are or where you are from…we are looking for this incredible person…help us find a real life hero, so I can express my sincerest gratitude."

It didn’t take long before the message found its way to Popovici’s mother, who commented:

“She hasn’t even seen this message yet as she worked graveyard shift at the suicide crisis center in Seattle so she’s still asleep. She’ll be shocked to see this message! She will be at the game tonight in the same seats. She’ll be so happy and excited to know he got it checked! What wonderful news!!!! She just got accepted into multiple medical schools!"

Talk about the power of the internet.

And so, the pair had an incredibly sweet reunion at the start of the game that night.

Displaying a truly amazing amount of empathy, Popovici shared with Sportsnet:

"The fact that I got to look him in the eye and hear what happened from his perspective. 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.''

Popovici is well on her way to saving countless more lives, since both the Canucks and Kraken teamed up to provide a $10,000 scholarship for medical school expenses.

Popovici’s reaction to receiving the reward for her selfless act (in the tweet above) is as heartwarming as the giant kraken beanie she sports.

Though the Canucks won that night, they tweeted that Hamilton and Popovici being able to meet was their “biggest win.”

Popovici told Sportsnet that Hamiton’s mole was a “picture perfect example of what melanoma looks like.”

If you’re wondering what that picture perfect example is, one person left a very helpful tweet so that you might be able to tell the difference between a marking that's benign and one that’s malignant. (Of course, this doesn’t replace getting the help of a trained professional.)

And to Nadia Popovici, who continues to be of service, thank you. More than ever, efforts to show compassion don’t go unnoticed.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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