Vancouver Canucks assistant equipment manager Brian “Red” Hamilton was working behind the bench during Seattle’s first home game on Oct. 23 when a Kraken fan relentlessly tried to get his attention, something all too common at NHL games.
When Hamilton finally looked up, what he saw saved his life.
Nadia Popovici, a 22-year-old graduate from the University of Washington and future medical student, noticed a mole on the back of Hamilton’s neck that she believed was cancerous. She held her phone up to the glass with a message that read: “The mole on the back of your neck is cancer.”
“I felt bad at the moment because I’m walking off the bench and she put her phone up to the glass and on the phone it said the mole on the back of your neck is cancer. And it threw me off,” Hamilton said Saturday before the Canucks played their second game of the season in Seattle.
Seattle Kraken fan Nadia Popovici poses for a photo before an NHL hockey game between the Kraken and the Vancouver Canucks, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
“So I kind of just shrugged and kept going. My initial response when I found out was I felt bad because I felt like I didn’t really give her the time of day.”
The Canucks posted a letter from Hamilton on Saturday attempting to identify the fan after her assumptions were correct. He had the mole checked a few days after the game and discovered it was malignant melanoma in situ, meaning the cancer cells had not penetrated the second layer of skin.
Within an hour of posting the message, Popovici was identified and it turned out she would be attending the game.
“She extended my life, she saved my life,” Hamilton said Saturday. “She didn’t take me out of a burning car like [in] the big stories, but she took me out of a slow fire. The words out of the doctor’s mouth were if I ignored that for four to five years, I wouldn’t be here. I didn’t [even] know [the mole] was there. She pointed it out. How she saw it boggles my mind… she’s a hero.”
Seattle Kraken fan Nadia Popovici, upper left, gestures toward Vancouver Canucks assistant equipment manager Brian “Red” Hamilton, second from left, after they were introduced during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
At the game, the Canucks and the Kraken announced they would be awarding Popovici a $10,000 scholarship to help with medical school.
Seattle Kraken fan Nadia Popovici, center, reacts after she was introduced along with Vancouver Canucks assistant equipment manager Brian “Red” Hamilton, standing, during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
“I understand I’m a part of the story, but she needs to know she’s the story,” Hamilton said. “She’s the person that did this. She saved the life. … She needs to know her efforts were valid and bang on.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.