• 72°

Firefighters give cancer patient ‘best day ever’

Hunter Hawk, one of Buckingham County’s bravest residents, got to spend Sunday afternoon, Sept. 27, with the brave men and women who make up many of the local fire departments.

It was a dream come true for a very inspiring 6-year-old little boy.

According to his mother, Amanda Clark, Hunter was your typical happy, healthy baby until a week before his first birthday when he became sick and lethargic. Fearing her son had the flu, Clark took Hunter to Centra Southside Community Hospital in Farmville, where a scan revealed a mother’s worst nightmare — a tumor the size of a softball growing on Hunter’s brain.

He was rushed to UVA for immediate brain surgery. Doctors were able to remove most of the tumor. When a pathology report came back, Hunter was diagnosed with a Grade III cancerous brain tumor.

The young boy suffered several complications from the surgery, including seizures, a stroke and subsequent mobility issues. He had a second surgery that placed two shunts to help drain fluid from his brain.

When Hunter was 3, another scan showed his previous tumor was growing back, with other tumors arriving in new areas. The family travelled to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for eight weeks, where Hunter received radiation treatment. After ringing the bell and returning home he was put on targeted chemotherapy in pill form.

After bravely beating brain cancer the first time, Hunter’s scans remained stable until this past May when doctors discovered more tumors in the original spot and other areas of the brain, as well as a tumor on his spine.

Figuring out how to tackle Hunter’s rare cancer has been difficult for oncologists, and while Clark hoped a special type of targeted therapy would improve conditions seen in May, a recent scan conducted last week showed things have worsened.

The news was overwhelming. Distraught, Clark took to a Facebook page, “Hope For Hunter” set up to notify the community of her son’s progress. There, she explained to friends and family the most recent findings and asked for prayers. At the end of her post she reflected on her son’s dreams of perhaps growing up to become a firefighter and how she longed to see that day come.

The post made an impact on Stacie Lilly, whose husband, Mike Lilly, is the fire chief at Glenmore Volunteer Fire Department (GVFD).

After contacting their network of the area’s firefighters, the Lillys arranged a special day for Hunter and his family.

Sunday afternoon Hunter, his siblings and his parents arrived at GVFD to meet with Mike and Stacie for a tour of the firehouse. Hunter was gifted many items, including a special firefighter’s uniform.

From Glenmore, Hunter was given a ride in a firetruck all the way to the Arvonia Volunteer Fire Department, where Arvonia firefighters were holding their annual car show. There, Hunter received more special gifts, including a toy fire truck with a real hose, a whistle and more.

At Arvonia, Hunter was able to put out a real fire with the help of firefighters, ride in a pumper with the siren on, sit in a hot rod and eat some special-made pizza cooked by firefighter James Rizza. More than $500 in tips gathered from food sales at the event were donated to the family to help with medical expenses.

Hunter’s special day ended in Dillwyn with a visit to some of his biggest fans at the Dillwyn Volunteer Fire Department, where he received a plaque and a fire department blanket.

Although Hunter’s health journey has been immensely difficult for the entire family, especially Hunter, Sunday was a welcome break from a world of doctor appointments and worry. Instead, Hunter got to spend time with the people he looks up to most.

“I’m just really, really appreciative of all that the firefighters did today. They really made a wish come true for him,” Clark said. “He had the best day ever.”

Hunter is a special boy described by those around him as having an infectious personality and smile. And though he strives to be a hero one day and become a firefighter, for the Buckingham community and others lucky enough to meet him, he already fits the bill.

“To me and a lot of people, he is just a little hero,” Clark said.

Those interested in making a donation to assist Hunter’s family with medical bills and other expenses can make a financial contribution via GoFundMe at https://gf.me/u/y2u4vr or by PayPal at https://www.paypal.me/1hope4hunter.