More than 250 police officers from New England have turned the words “blue Christmas” on their head. With the lights of more than 100 cruisers flashing on a 700-mile journey Wednesday from the Burlington Mall to rural Virginia, the officers escorted a cache of Christmas cards for a 5-year-old boy suffering from brain and spinal cancer.
It is a special delivery of holiday greetings for Nathan Norman, a terminally ill child from Rustburg, Va., who is expected to receive their cards, gifts, and good wishes Thursday morning.
“Here’s this 5-year-old child with terminal cancer, and all he wants is Christmas cards from police officers and firefighters from across the country,” Wellesley police Sergeant Scott Whittemore said as he drove into Virginia on Wednesday.
The convoy, organized from about 80 police agencies, drove single file with blue lights ablaze on a 12-hour trip that left about 6:30 a.m. They picked up other police cruisers along the way, from Central and Western Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In all, they formed a 3-mile-long line of holiday greeting.
“Our blue lights are kind of like our Christmas lights,” said Burlington police Sergeant Gerard McDonough, who organized the trip. “There’s not a whole heck of a lot you can do for him physically. Our goal is to create a positive, happy memory for him and his family.”
The officers — bearing cards, police patches, department coins, and other gifts — had planned to surprise Nathan by bringing the cruisers to his street with lights flashing. But the local sheriff said the road could not handle the traffic, so Nathan will be met instead at Liberty University in nearby Lynchburg, Va.
For this youngster in a small Virginia town, the attention from police and firefighters, spawned by a local news story, has grown quickly and exponentially, said Cheryl Ellis, a family friend.
“He’s received at least 2,000 boxes and 15,000 letters and cards in the last two weeks,” Ellis said. “This side of heaven, we’ll never know why God chose Nathan and his family for the love being shown.”
The convoy will be the single largest delegation to visit Nathan so far, Ellis said.
Nathan, diagnosed with cancer in 2009, has endured three surgeries and seven rounds of chemotherapy, Ellis said. He is currently taking three chemotherapy medicines, which his parents, Bobby and Dawn, hope will be effective 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 a website. “It is just to try and buy time.”
So far, the tumors have stabilized. To lift Nathan’s spirits, the Normans have placed a Christmas tree and lights in the house since September.
“We do not expect to lose Nathan before Christmas this year,” his mother said in e-mail. “However, we know with each end of treatment, our options are getting less and less.”
The Norman family gives as much as it receives. As part of an annual project, they have sent 3,000 bags of Christmas gifts to children in hospitals in Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Arizona, and even Scotland, according to the family’s blog.
The boy and his three siblings, Sarah, 9; Matthew, 7; and Tabitha, 3, have become accustomed to visitors. New York firefighters arrived last week with a box of cannoli in tow.
Secret Service agents also have called on the house. The agents brought robots used for security at the White House and let Nathan and his siblings move them around the neighborhood.
Most of the officers traveled to Virginia on their own time and are paying for their lodging. Whittemore, the Wellesley sergeant, said he is bearing the cost of the fuel. The officers are expected to drive back to New England Thursday. “If that’s what it’s going to take to put a smile on his face, that’s worth every penny,” Whittemore said.
Burlington police Officer Jim Tigges said the 15 members of his department who made the trip also made financial sacrifices.
“At this time of year, we’re very busy workwise,” said Tigges, who spoke from department headquarters. “They have opportunities to make money for their families, and they chose to take a couple of days out of their lives and bring a Christmas wish to a little boy.”
Wellesley police are sending Nathan a battery-operated replica of a town police cruiser, which the child can ride. The hunt for the car became a department quest, with officers finding the last one available in the area. The toy cruiser has even been adorned with the department’s lettering.
“That’s what being a police officer is all about,” Whittemore said. “It always has been.”