By Sarah Kuper
For more than a year, the Over the Mountain community has been rallying around 5-year-old cancer patient Sam Hodnett, more affectionately known as “Super Sam.”
Now, after months of support from family, friends and people he doesn’t even know, Sam and his family are getting a Thanksgiving to remember at Disney World from one Alabama organization.
The Crestline Elementary kindergartener was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in the spring of 2016.
Sam’s mother, Amanda Hodnett, said she initially thought he may just need glasses, but during his exam the doctor saw pressure behind his eye. They headed to Children’s for an MRI.
“We thought it was silly doing the MRI and that it would be nothing,” Hodnett said, “but the doctors thought it was cancer right away and I kept asking if they had ever been wrong. It took my breath away.”
After a lengthy surgery, six weeks of radiation and nine rounds of chemotherapy, Sam is able to go to kindergarten, and his mother said he is doing well for someone who has endured what he has.
“He was paralyzed after the surgery but now he is walking again. His hair is coming back. He is the same Sam he was before, very shy but very strong and very brave.”
Hodnett gives credit to the doctors at Children’s of Alabama, but she believes the backing of the community played a big part in helping Sam heal.
The most obvious sign of support came in the form of red ribbons on area mailboxes – an effort by locals to rally the community around one of its youngest members.
“I would be driving down Euclid Avenue and see a red ribbon on almost every mailbox. These are people I don’t even know, and they are pulling for my child,” she said. “He matters to them.”
Hodnett said there were days that felt very isolating for her and Sam, but then she would log on Facebook and see many hopeful and encouraging comments from people in the area who were paying attention to Sam’s fight.
“I’m not even really a Facebook person but social media … . You hear a lot of negative things about it, but I was on the receiving end of so much positivity,” she said.
As for Sam, he handled the outpouring of support like most 5-year-olds.
“He is shy, but he liked the attention. We would be driving and he would count the ribbons on mailboxes,” Hodnett said, “I would tell him that every ribbon meant someone was praying for him. He loves that people call him ‘Super Sam.’”
Now that Sam is regaining strength and Thanksgiving is fast approaching, the Hodnett family is not only counting their blessings, they are packing to spend the holiday in the “Happiest Place on Earth,” Disney World.
Alabama nonprofit Magic Moments is sending Sam and his family to Disney as part of a wish-granting program for children with chronic and life-threatening medical conditions.
On Nov. 5, friends and family gathered at Overton Park as Disney characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse revealed to Sam that he would be spending Thanksgiving at the Orlando park.
Hodnett said Sam was quiet at first but now he won’t stop talking about it.
This trip is meaningful, Hodnett said, because she believes it will not only be magical for Sam, but it will also fill a void in his childhood.
“I feel like we missed out on so many memories and moments from his childhood because he was going through treatment. Now our family gets to make some of the most magical memories a child can make … at Disney.”
From the simplicity of a ribbon on a mailbox to the grand surprise of a trip of a lifetime, Hodnett said this experience has made her a believer in the power of showing support.
“I’ve never been one to do the ribbon on a mailbox or post messages of support on Facebook but now, I’ll never not support someone in the community in whatever way I can. It gave us strength to be better parents.”
One way Sam and his family are trying to give back to a community that has helped them is by spreading the word about Magic Moments’ April 15 marathon, called BHM26.2. Sam’s story will be featured along the course.
For more information visit magicmoments.org.