Five-year-old Nathan Norman had one Christmas wish: cards from his heroes, police and firefighters.
The little boy, who lives in Rustburg, Va., is suffering from brain and spine cancer, and in September, his family learned that his tumors were growing.
At first, the cards came 15 to 20 at a time. But as his wish spread on social media, the response got bigger and bigger.
Early this month, officers in Burlington, Mass., began organizing a trip down to Virginia to hand-deliver Christmas cards and gifts.
This morning, a convoy of more than 200 officers from more than 80 agencies, driving 93 police cars, headed from Burlington to Nathan’s home to deliver them.
“He just had a very simple wish,” said Burlington Police Sergeant Gerard McDonough. “We thought we could take his simple request and do one better.”
Nathan was diagnosed with brain and spinal cancer in 2009, according to his family’s blog.
The little boy underwent multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy to fight the cancer, his parents, Dawn and Bobby, said in an e-mailed statement. During one surgery, doctors were able to remove 55 percent of Nathan’s brain tumor, but unfortunately, the tumors progressed.
He is currently taking three different chemotherapy medicines at home, which his parents hope he can handle for the full 18-month cycle.
“These are just to try and stabilize the tumors but will not get rid of the cancer,” his parents wrote on the blog. “It is just to try and buy time.”
So far, the tumors have stabilized.
“The cancer is there, just not growing for the moment,” his parents said in the e-mail.
IWhen doctors told Nathan’s family that tumors had been found on Nathan’s spine, said McDonough, the family tried to cheer him up by starting Christmas months early, and turning on all their Christmas lights.
So, McDonough said, he decided that their trip to visit him should be made by cruiser, not bus.
“Our blue lights are kind of like our Christmas lights,” said McDonough. “The initial event was to light up his neighborhood in front of his house with our Christmas lights.”
The cars left from the Burlington Mall parking lot before sunup this morning.
“I’ve been a policeman 25 years, and I was overwhelmed by what I saw,” said Burlington Police Officer Jim Tigges. “It was still dark out, their lights were going. It was just one line of blue.”
Each agency is bringing a card, plus police pins, T-shirts, department, coins and badges. Even the Los Angeles police sent an officer, said McDonough. Agencies that couldn’t make the trip still sent cards and gifts.
Many have made monetary donations to Nathan’s family, said McDonough – and the family is using that money to deliver care packages to other sick children.
“They’re a really good family,” said McDonough. “I think they’re a family of really strong faith.”
The caravan rolled through Newtown, Conn., site of last week’s school massacre, on its trip to Virginia, said McDonough. Originally, they wanted to stop and pay their respects, he said, but the town is overwhelmed.
The plan, said McDonough, when they get to Virginia, is to visit with the family Thursday. They have so many cruisers, he said, that they may not all fit on his street, so they are considering visiting at a local college.
McDonough is a father himself, and many of the officers headed to Rustburg are parents. “Because he had a very simple request, it hits you, I think, as parents,” he said. “I think the goal is to give Nathan and his family a happy memory and a reason to smile. They have a long road ahead of them. It may be hard to find a reason to smile in the future.”
You can watch a livestream of their 12-hour trip. On Thursday, the livestream will broadcast the visit to Nathan’s house. You can follow the officers on Twitter at @WPDPhoto, or look for the hashtag #Cards4Nathan.Globe correspondent Evan Allen contributed to this report. Melissa Werthmann can be reached at email@example.com.