A keen-eyed spectator at a recent NHL hockey match did more than enjoy the game, she helped save a man’s life. But she didn’t know it at the time.
Brian “Red” Hamilton, assistant equipment manager for the Vancouver Canucks, was in Seattle with the team in a match against the Seattle Kraken in late October when he heard a pounding on the glass behind the bench.
It was a Seattle Kraken fan trying to get his attention.
But Nadia Popovici wasn’t doing it as part of any cheer, she wanted to share an important message with him. Hamilton didn’t pay her any heed at first. But she persisted, banging repeatedly on the plexiglas to get his attention.
“She put her phone up to the glass and on the phone it said, ‘The mole on the back of your neck is cancer,'” Hamilton told reporters on a Zoom call on January 1, 2022, several months after the incident.
“It threw me off, so I kind of just shrugged and kept going,” Hamilton said of his reaction. “I felt like I really didn’t give her the time of day.”
But when he returned to Vancouver the day after the game he asked his wife and the team’s doctor if he had a mole on his neck. A week later, the results of a biopsy of the mole came back and it was a malignant melanoma. But thanks to its early detection, Hamilton is cancer-free.
He wanted to thank his unexpected guardian angel but had no idea how to reach her, so he enlisted the help of the Vancouver Canucks, who posted a letter on social media.
Hamilton’s letter began, “The reason for the letter (today) was that I really wanted her to know her persistence and everything she did to get my attention, she saved my life.”
#HockeyTwitter, we need your help!
Please RT to spread the word and help us connect Red with the woman he considers his hero. pic.twitter.com/HlZybgOnjf
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) January 1, 2022
“We are looking for this incredible person and we need you to share this with your friends and families to help us find a real life hero, so I can express my sincerest gratitude,” he continued.
Within 2 hours of posting the letter, they located Popovici, who was reached through the Facebook members of the Ladies of the Kraken group.
— Jodi Murphy (@JMurphFB) January 1, 2022
And the next day the team arranged for Hamilton to thank Popovici in person at the hockey game January 1st in Seattle.
The biggest win tonight 💙 pic.twitter.com/6w0LGTcg9E
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) January 2, 2022
Popovici, currently a student in medical school, told reporters that she may have responded earlier but she was doing other life-saving work. “I work at a crisis line and I was working over New Year’s Eve,” Popovici told CTV News Vancouver. “So I got home super late. And so I was sleeping through all of this.”
She said that after she had put up her phone to the plexiglas in October, she had doubts that she had done the right thing.
“I thought, maybe, you know, it was just an inappropriate thing for me to do. I tried to do it in, like, the most sensitive way. I made sure that there were no other people really looking or around.”
She talked with her mother about it for weeks after, and both considered that Hamilton may already have known and didn’t want to be reminded. And by a fan decked out from head to foot in Kraken gear. But now that Popovici knows the outcome she is very happy she carried through with delivering her message.
The Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks will also be gifting $10,000 towards Popovici’s school tuition as way of thanks.
Hamilton also did a Q&A press conference after the January 1st game to answer everyone’s questions.