By Regina Elling
To have Christmas every day—not necessarily the presents or the shopping, but the warmth of friendship, family, and good things to come—sounds like a pretty good dream. But truth is, to have every day be Christmas is the wish of a 6-year-old boy facing terminal cancer.
Although the story initially sounded like an Internet scam, there was something about it that deeply touched Austin Mann. A firefighter with Ramona’s Intermountain Fire and Rescue Department, Mann said he first learned about the child when a friend of his emailed him the story.
“The email concerned a boy—Nathan Norman of Rustburg, Va.—diagnosed with brain cancer when he was just a year old. Since then, he’s developed spinal cord tumors,” Mann said. “For a child to have to deal with everything he’s gone through, and to have his courage and his innocent attitude—no one wants to see that taken away from him.”
Nathan’s specific wish was for Christmas cards from firefighters, police, and emergency service personnel, and his wish has gone viral. Hundreds of officers have responded and sent cards.
Initially, Mann planned on sending Nathan a super-sized Christmas card. Since he doesn’t have many family members, he said, “Every Christmas I try to do something special for an organization or family that needs an extra word of encouragement or support.”
But when he got the Intermountain crew to sign the card, everything changed. Mann’s personal project became a group collaborative.
More and more firefighters signed the card, and many donated station patches or stickers. So far, Mann has collected patches from Cal Fire, San Diego Fire Department, and Intermountain. Individual stations include those from Witch Creek, the Ensenada Bomberos in Baja, Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, Point Loma, and more.
“This card is one of a kind,” he said. “There are photographs, signatures, patches, and stickers from stations ranging from Riverside, California, all the way to Mexico. Gentle Care Transport Incorporated of Los Angeles is also represented. Every single item on the card means something. And everyone that has seen it has wanted to be a part of it.”
In addition to the oversized card, Mann has included coloring books and some other items—including two special pieces of firefighting memorabilia.
“I’ve included my old firefighting jacket and helmet as part of the project, with a letter explaining how both pieces of equipment have helped save my life,” he said.
For Intermountain Fire Chief Jeremy Christofferson, the card evokes a sense of pride.
“It’s great to see that Intermountain personnel are not just doing their job, but that they are really out in the community,” he said. “It’s amazing that everyone has stepped up for Nathan like this. But it’s all part of the firefighter brotherhood. When a firefighter is doing something like this on such a personal level, all the barriers come down and everyone wants to get involved.”
So now that Christmas is officially past, Mann is nearly ready to mail the gigantic card and all the memorabilia to a young boy he’s never met.
“This has been my project for the last month,” he said. “Neither Nathan or his family has any idea this is coming; hopefully it will keep Christmas going a bit longer for them. And I also hope that my doing this will motivate others to step up to the plate and help someone in need.”