By Douglas Moser and Doug Ireland
---- — Like many boys, Nathan Norman has heroes. Unlike most boys, though, Nathan, 5, who is fighting for his life against malignant tumors in his brain and spinal cord, got a special surprise from those heroes yesterday.
Hundreds of police officers, and several from the area, joined in a nearly 650-mile caravan from the Burlington Mall to Nathan’s hometown of Rustburg, Va., yesterday for a surprise Christmas visit. The boy counted police and firefighters among his heroes, and they have responded overwhelmingly.
Burlington police Sgt. Gerald McDonough recruited more than 250 police from Massachusetts and New Hampshire to join him in the journey, including four officers from Methuen, three from Salem, N.H., and two detectives from North Andover. Many brought Christmas cards for Nathan, who told a Durham, N.C., TV station last month he likes receiving cards.
“I think it’s wonderful to see the outpouring of support for Nathan,” said Methuen police Chief Joseph Solomon. “It’s nice to help grant a wish to someone who has a terminal disease.”
Sgt. Michael Havey, Detective Tom McMenamon and officers Donald Craig and Scott Lever represented Methuen, tying green and white ribbons on their cruisers to honor the victims in last week’s deadly school shooting in Connecticut and documenting their trip with pictures and updates on Facebook and Twitter.
North Andover police Chief Paul Gallagher said two detectives, Daniel Cronin and Sean Daley, approached him last week about using a cruiser for the trip, while paying their own way. They took a card signed by the whole department and gifts like police hats and shirts. Town Manager Andrew Maylor sent a card as well.
“They were sending pictures and said there were other officers joining them on way down,” Gallagher said. “Officers were saluting them in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, as they went through the jurisdictions.”
Salem police officer Michael Verrocchi said he officers Joseph Keating and Joseph Defeudis left early Wednesday to meet officers from the other departments at 5 a.m. at the Burlington Mall.
Verrocchi, no stranger to driving hundreds of miles to help someone in need, said they planned on making it a memorable Christmas for the little boy.
Last summer, Verrocchi and Salem K-9 Officer Paul Benoit participated in the national Police Unity Tour along with Haverhill police Officers Jason Pearl and Nicholas Brown.
Verrocchi helped escort hundreds of police officers from around the country who bicycled 300 miles from New Jersey to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. The local officers collected $12,000 in donations for the memorial and the National Law Enforcement Museum.
Solomon spoke to his officers yesterday. “They said you couldn’t put in words the impact it had on Nathan and his family to see all those officers rolling up,” said Solomon. “We were glad we were allowed to join in.”
Police said Nathan, who met with the police and has received cards and notes from police organizations from around the country, was thrilled.
“In a classic moment, after Nathan gave all 253 officers commands to come to attention, hand salute and parade rest, Nathan followed this with his own spin, and gave the command for all of us to hop on one foot!” North Andover police posted on the department’s Facebook page.
The entire contingent obliged, to Nathan’s delight. “Nathan said to hop on one foot, and he had 200 officers hopping on one foot,” Gallagher chuckled.
Nathan was diagnosed with a low grade astrocytoma just after his second birthday in January 2009, according to the family. He underwent surgery to remove part of the brain tumor, followed by a regimen of chemotherapy. In October, 2011, doctors found that the original tumor had continued to grow, and discovered a second tumor, this one in his spinal cord.
He endured a second surgery that month, and two more rounds of chemo. The tumors continued to progress, however, and Nathan is taking more chemotherapy.
Anyone interested can keep up with Nathan and his treatments on a website for the family: www.caringbridge.org/visit/nathannorman/journal/
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