Adrian Tracy makes Jackson DeHart feel better. And when you’re a two-year-old kid fighting leukemia, feeling better is the most important thing in the world.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive end has befriended the entire DeHart family — Jackson, his twin brother Brady, mom Laura and dad Ken — after meeting them during a visit by Ticat players to McMaster Children’s Hospital last spring.
“We were there for an appointment and Adrian photobombed a picture we were taking of Brady,” Laura said. “They ended playing with Adrian for a long time and they just hit it off. “
“Watching Brady be the protector for Jackson, making sure he was OK … that was touching,” Tracy said. “I have a younger brother and I understand the bond between the two.”
It could have been just a nice, fleeting moment — one of many generated during the team’s regular visits to the hospital. But Tracy stayed in touch with the family through Twitter, inviting them to an autograph session before the season and presenting the boys with matching Ticat jerseys emblazoned with his name and number.
“We were looking into getting them jerseys and I was joking on Twitter about how I was a twin mom and everything costs twice as much,” Laura said. “So Adrian bought them. I said, ‘I don’t need you to do that, we’re going to get them hats and shirts and make sure they are all swagged out.’
“He did it anyway.”
Jackson is batting acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Diagnosed almost a year ago, he’s faced repeated rounds of gruelling chemotherapy and some scary moments. A bad reaction to one of the drugs paralyzed his vocal cords put him in the intensive care unit, struggling to breathe.
“We had to sign all these forms that said they could perform an emergency tracheotomy if they needed to,” Ken said. “So that was harrowing.”
But there are good days, too. Right now, Jackson’s reacting so well to treatment that doctors are upping his dosage, hoping to make further inroads. It’s also given him the ability to do fun stuff, like show up to Ticats practice earlier this week to hang out with his favourite player.
So there were Jackson and Brady, decked out in their jerseys, running around the playing surface at Tim Hortons Field with Tracy. They threw footballs and rolled a giant orange stability ball up and down the sidelines. Forty-five minutes after his two-hour practice had ended, Tracy was still on the field playing with the twins.
“I just try and make the most of the moment, connect with them. They are genuine spirits,” Tracy said afterward. “I wasn’t expecting it but it’s really benefited me, allowed me to be appreciative. They touch my heart in a special way.”
The family has yet to attend a game this season — Jackson’s treatment makes him sensitive to loud noise — but the boys watch the games on TV, going berserk when Tracy appears on the screen. There’s no question the relationship helped Jackson in his fight against cancer, says Laura.
“It makes him want to be active instead of just sitting around — it lights up his whole day,” she said. “Anything that brightens up his spirits makes him feel better and he fights harder.”
Jackson’s prognosis is good, with an 85 per cent survival rate. Still, he’s slated to continue his treatment until January 2019 and will face health challenges the rest of his life.
During their most recent visit, Jackson gave Tracy a bracelet in support of September’s childhood cancer awareness month. Brady wears one, too. Tracy says he’ll wear it under his wrist tape during the team’s game against the B.C. Lions on Saturday, the message emblazoned on the rubber pressed against his skin.
It reads, “No one fights alone.”