Parker Gerault is a seven-year-old kid from Austin, Texas who's obsessed with the New England Patriots and star tight end Rob Gronkowski. He's also fighting a rare tumor on his brain stem. He's been backed in his struggle by not just family and his community, but also by video messages and calls from several members of the Patriots.
"My oldest and him they share a room," said Parker's mom, Brooke. "My oldest had told me, 'Mom, Parker's making really strange sounds at night.' I just knew something wasn't right, but in my mind the worst case was sleep apnea."
The day after Christmas 2017 they went to the hospital for a routine MRI and were never allowed to leave.
"From diagnosis to surgery the next four days were spent in the hospital," said Parker's dad, Donnie. "When Parker came out of surgery the right side of his body couldn't work. He couldn't swallow. He couldn't breathe on his own. Complication after complication."
For a seven-year-old, there may be nothing more lonely than being sick when everyone else is healthy. And nothing more uplifting than the idea of your heroes cheering you on to get better.
Family friend Carrie Dean went through the Patriots roster, selected a bunch of players and reached out to them on Instagram. What happened next was a wave of inspiration. The first words of support came from Texas native and Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon: "Hey Parker, this is Marcus Cannon from the New England Patriots. I just wanted to wish you a great recovery from your brain surgery. Be strong."
"He immediately perked up," Brooke said.
"Shortly thereafter -- by shortly I mean seconds - there were four more voicemails from other Patriots players," Donnie said.
At that moment, the Gerault family realized these NFL players actually have superpowers.
"It's not on the football field. It took about 20 seconds, but that 20 seconds brought more life out of Parker than any of us standing around his bed, begging him to show us a sign of life."
Those voicemails turned to video messages from even more Patriots with words like, "just know that while you're cheering us on, we're cheering you on."
The support has overwhelmed the Gerault family, and a recent care package from Rob Gronkowski gave Parker an even bigger boost. Gronk sent Parker an autographed football and a personal video message. After that gesture, Parker felt inspired enough to make his first public appearance since his diagnosis at a community fundraiser for pediatric brain tumor research held in his honor.
"When he's watching Gronk, in his imagination he is Gronk," Donnie said. "This is an escape for certain. The fight's not over. It's going to take the community it's going to take more Gronks to keep these kids motivated and stay in the fight."
Parker has a long way to go in his fight, but now he knows how many people are in his corner, from down the block in Texas to 2,000 miles away in New England.