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Basketball at Duke shines light on 'kid captains' battling medical challenges

Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium celebrates pediatric patients, bringing joy and hope to families during basketball games. Heartwarming moments go viral.

Durham, North Carolina - In the midst of a timeout at the raucous Cameron Indoor Stadium, 10-year-old Samantha DiMartino found herself at the center of attention. Walking to midcourt alongside Marcelle Scheyer, the wife of Blue Devils coach Jon Scheyer, Samantha's story was shared by the arena announcer. A patient at Duke Children's Hospital since 2017, Samantha has battled an inoperable brain tumor, undergoing 15 months of chemotherapy and becoming the first patient in the pediatric neuro-oncology department to complete a new clinical trial last summer.

The cheers from the passionate "Cameron Crazies" grew louder, with fans in the upper sections standing up to join in the celebration. As Samantha waved to the crowd, the noise level reached that of an in-game moment, honoring the brave fourth-grader who enjoys dance, running 5Ks, and, of course, Duke basketball.

This heartwarming scene is part of a new gameday tradition at Duke, bringing together two iconic brands in college sports: the championship-winning basketball program and the legendary student section known for its spirited antics. It serves as a moment of encouragement, tribute, acknowledgment, and hope amidst the chaos of Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Samantha's mother, Lauren Brill, expressed her pride in her daughter's journey, emphasizing the importance of the crowd's support and encouragement. Marcelle Scheyer, the driving force behind the Scheyer Family Kid Captain Program, aims to strengthen the ties between the basketball program and the hospital, providing young patients with an unforgettable experience. Each game features a new kid captain, who gets to participate in pre-game activities and enjoy a special moment on the court during halftime.

The impact of this program goes beyond the basketball court, offering a brief escape for children and families facing challenging circumstances. It allows them to feel seen and celebrated, providing a moment of joy and respite from their daily struggles. Through these gestures of support and recognition, the Duke community comes together to uplift and inspire those in need.

As the program continues to grow, more stories of resilience and triumph emerge, showcasing the power of compassion and solidarity. From a young leukemia survivor ringing a bell to signify the end of treatment to a blind child being celebrated on the court, each moment is a testament to the human spirit's resilience and determination.

Dr. Ann M. Reed, a key figure at Duke Children's Hospital, recognizes the program's significance in providing a sense of normalcy and joy to patients and families. By shifting the focus from illness to celebration, the program offers a much-needed reprieve from the challenges of medical treatment.

For Samantha and others like her, these moments of support and recognition are invaluable. As she navigates her journey with grace and courage, surrounded by a community of love and encouragement, Samantha embodies the spirit of resilience and hope. In a world filled with uncertainty, these acts of kindness and compassion serve as beacons of light, illuminating the path forward towards a brighter future.

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