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True Holiday Hero

Patrick Hobbs-DeClaire and Chandler Parsons form unique partnership in fight against cancer

HOUSTON - What makes a real superhero?

In both comic books and the blockbusters that rule the box office, we most often associate the archetype with superior strength, speed and intellect. Either through birthright or random chance these characters have been blessed with powers that allow them to routinely save the day by virtue of the extraordinary gifts they possess and can summon at their beck and call. Their superhuman feats become legend. Their actions arouse the ambition and imagination of us all. 

By contrast, mere mortal virtues such as courage and hope often appear tepid and tame. Such characteristics don’t quite stir the blood like Superman. And yet, what good is strength without valor? And precisely how much moxie is required when one is invincible anyway?   

10-year-old Patrick Hobbs-DeClaire does not look like any of the ubiquitous superheroes that adorn the walls and windows of his tiny hospital room, save for the Iron Man-esque port that’s been implanted just below the right side of his collarbone as a way to draw blood and inject the myriad drugs now key to his survival. For well over a year now, his body has been in a state of all-out revolt in the form of Stage 4 Neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that attacks the autonomic nervous system. He’s been left weak, pale and bald by the bone marrow transplant he underwent about a month ago that represents just the latest attempt to beat this insidious disease.

Patrick has already undergone multiple rounds of chemotherapy in an effort to eradicate the tumors clinging to his spine and skull. He has endured searing physical pain in the form of sores that start in his mouth and weave their way through his body’s every orifice. And he has withstood the emotional torment of coming face-to-face with a disease that has left millions of victims in its wake. His family has been by his side and undoubtedly dealt with their own acute, daily suffering. But Patrick’s particular form of pain and anguish is his and his alone. This is his cross to bear.

Holocaust survivor and world-renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl once wrote that, “What is to give light must endure burning.” Patrick has felt the fire from the blistering flames that whip within his body. His insides have been set ablaze, restored and then ignited yet again. During the darkest days, his light may flicker. Not once, however, has he allowed it to be extinguished.

That is the essence of true strength – the kind that can only come from a belief and hope offering little more than an abject refusal to entertain the ever-present feelings of fear and helplessness that lurk within the mind, whispering doubt and death while waiting to prey upon one’s every weakness.

Such strength requires fuel, a sort of sustenance for the soul most frequently found in faith, family and friendship. The DeClaire’s possess the first two in spades: The ‘Prayers for Patrick’ bracelets they hand out prominently feature a Bible verse that reads, “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you,” and Patrick’s mother, Laurie, quit her job at NASA on the spot upon learning of her son’s diagnosis so that she could spend every second of his treatment by his side.

The friendship part of the equation, meanwhile, has been filled most uniquely by a rather unexpected running mate. When the DeClaire family first discovered the mysterious cause of Patrick’s back pain last December, their collective devastation was incalculable. “When those words come out of the doctor’s mouth, it’s just incredible how the world crashes in on you,” recalls Patrick’s father, Christopher DeClaire. So in an effort to regain their equilibrium and provide a much-needed morale boost, they reached out to Rockets’ CEO Tad Brown to see if there might be some way a player or two could drop by the hospital for a brief visit. Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin immediately answered the bell. Since then James Harden and Dwight Howard have spent quality time with Patrick as well.

But it is Parsons who has formed the tightest bond with Patrick, with each providing the other something neither one could have possibly anticipated or foreseen. For Patrick, the hospital visits and in-game, personal gestures from his real life hero produce the kind of eager anticipation and ear-to-ear smiles that can be the nourishing lifeblood necessary for any person or family that finds themselves locked in a perpetual battle between hope and doubt, life and death. Parsons, meanwhile, has been exposed to a brand of heroism that strikingly transcends anything that can be found on a basketball court. He was so moved after visiting Patrick last week, in fact, that he decided to shave his own head as a sign of solidarity. Parsons' signature locks were shorn last night.  

“The kid is so strong and so brave,” he says of Patrick. “Here I am going to see a podiatrist for an ingrown toenail and this kid is battling for his life. How he handles it is incredible. It’s similar to what we do: He tries to not look ahead and he tries to not look behind. He game plans for every single day and every day is a new day and a new challenge. He just tries to plan and do what he’s got to do for that day to survive.

“To go through what he’s going through and to be so positive, it’s an inspiration.”

Imagine that – a world in which the weakest and most fragile among us are in fact the strongest; a reality in which the revered find themselves in absolute awe; a perspective that places courage, faith and hope far above speed and skill.

From that vantage point, ponder the question once more: What makes a real superhero?

“In the middle of this process, I once asked Patrick about courage,” begins Christopher DeClaire. “He said courage was never being afraid. I said, no, not at all – it’s actually quite the opposite. Courage is facing your fear and overcoming it; going forward anyway, even though you’re afraid of something.

“That’s you, Patrick. You’re my Captain Courageous.”

The name fits. So, too, would a shield bearing the image of an eternal flame. And should the need for a suitable sidekick ever arise, Chandler Parsons is just a phone call away.