Brandon Spicer and his cousin drove 12 hours through the night and arrived in Kokomo at around 8 a.m. Wednesday.
A few hours later, the two men who serve on the fire department in the small town of Delmar, Delaware, joined up with Kokomo police officers and firefighters, as well as reservists from Grissom Air Reserve Base.
Although they all wore different uniforms on Wednesday, all the men were on the same mission: To lift the spirits of Jeremiah Derks, a 12-year-old student at Northwestern Middle School who earlier this year was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer.
At around 11 a.m., the crew pulled up in front of Jeremiah’s house inside police cars and fire trucks with sirens blazing. Soon, everyone was inside, where Jeremiah sat on the floor with a huge smile as they opened box after box of uniform patches.
Soon, the entire living room table was piled with patches from police and fire departments from all over the country, including places in New York, Houston, Florida, California and Ohio. There were even patches from a department in Australia. Most of those patches came from Indiana Going Blue, a nonprofit group that supports Hoosier law enforcement officers.
“Jeremiah, I think your mom and dad are going to have to give up their master bedroom to put all these patches,” Kokomo Police Department Capt. Kevin Summers said with a laugh.
But Jeremiah’s dad, Shannon, said Summers wasn’t far from the truth.
He said they put out a post on Facebook last month asking for patches for Jeremiah, who has always loved getting things related to police officers, firefighters and military members.
The post went viral. Since the message went out about three weeks ago, Jeremiah has received over 1,000 patches from all over the world, including Germany, France and even Afghanistan.
“That was the last place I ever expected to get something,” Shannon said. “I don’t think Jeremiah ever expected any of this. It was a fun thing at first, but it’s getting bigger than anyone thought.”
Spicer, who has four young sons, said he saw the post of Facebook out in Delaware, and instantly knew he had to do something for Jeremiah. At first, he was just going to mail a patch. But when he brought it up to his fire department’s chief, they all decided to pitch in.
“As a department, we all came together and said we really wanted to do this for him,” Spicer said.
On Wednesday, not only did Spicer bring dozens of patches. He also gave Jeremiah a firefighter’s shirt, hoods and socks they wear with their uniform, as well as two full-sized firefighter helmets, a brand new one and an used, tattered one.
“The helmet is heavier than it looks,” Jeremiah told the group.
Like many others, Spicer felt inspired to reach out to Jeremiah after hearing about his battle with cancer.
Shannon said his son was diagnosed earlier this year with chondroblastic osteosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that produces immature bones. Since then, Jeremiah has been receiving treatment at Riley Children’s Hospital, including chemotherapy that has left him bald.
Shannon said the chemo has been extremely harsh on Jeremiah’s body, leaving him tired and sick with each round.
On Oct. 17, he underwent a surgery that removed 15 centimeters out of the calf bone in his right leg, which today is bound in a brace. The procedure cut through nerve and will likely leave him with little motor function in his leg for the rest of his life.
Jeremiah will likely continue with chemo treatments until March, Shannon said. So far, the treatments are working as intended.
Spicer said hearing that story is what inspired him and his cousin to drive 12 hours through the night on Wednesday to deliver their special gifts.
“Jeremiah looks at us and the police officers as his heroes,” he said. “In reality, he’s the real hero here. He’s waking up every morning and pushing and doing everything on his own. I feel inspired by him. His willpower to wake up every morning knowing he could give up right now and stop fighting, it all made me want to help him.”
Shannon, a 32-year-old Army veteran who was wounded while serving, said Jeremiah has always wanted to be in the military, but there’s little chance that will ever happen because of his leg surgery.
Jeremiah now has his eye on becoming a police officer when he gets older. In fact, he’s already become an honorary sheriff’s deputy after Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers and others visited on Aug. 31 and swore him in to the department.
After the ceremony, deputies gave Jeremiah a ride in the squad vehicle. Shannon said he loved every minute of it, especially going fast and getting to turn on the siren.
Now, he said, he hopes his son will get better so he can someday fulfill his dream of becoming an officer. And he’ll do everything in his power to make that happen.
“You don’t want to think you’re going to outlive your son,” Shannon said. “No father wants to hear that. So for me, I want to give him the best I can … We’re letting him do what he wants to do. We treat him like he’s still a kid, so if wants to do it and can do it, we let him.”
Anyone wishing to donate to Jeremiah and his family to help pay for medical expenses can visit their Go Fund Me page.