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Portrait of a Fan-Hero

Get to know Nadia Popovici, soon-to-be medical school student and Kraken fan, who put her budding health-care skills to ultimate good for Canucks staffer Red Hamilton

By Bob Condor

OK, let’s get this out of the way before delving into Nadia Popovici’s hero story.

She grew up rooting for the Vancouver Canucks. But that all changed Oct. 23 when her former favorite team came to town to face her now No. 1 team.

“That first game here was so exciting,” said Popovici, who is a North American sensation for spotting a cancerous mole on the neck of Vancouver assistant equipment manager Red Hamilton. “Plus, hey, I have to rep Seattle. I go to as many games as I can.”

Popovici and her mom, YukYung Nelson, attend Kraken games together and clearly know how to rep the city and team swag if the photo accompanying this story is any indicator.

While social media channels and the internet were abuzz Saturday morning, Popovici was sleeping. She volunteers overnight for a crisis hotline.

Her mother was the first to break the news of Hamilton’s letter posted on the Canucks’ Twitter account and retweeted by the Kraken among lots of other users in an effort to locate the mystery fan/good citizen.

“My mom said, ‘Nadia, you have to check out the Kraken social accounts and website – you have no idea what’s happening,'” said Popovici (pronounced “POP-poe-vitch”). “I couldn’t believe people were looking for me.”

The Kraken’s communications and sales teams got to work figuring out season-ticket holders with seats located behind the Kraken bench. They made quick work, less than a half-hour of detective work, to put a name to Popovici’s heroic act.

“I’m not in a position to diagnose professionally,” Popovici said. “I was very concerned about pointing out the mole somehow [to Hamilton]. It can be embarrassing or jarring to point out something on a person’s body.”

Well, at least not yet on the professional component. Popovici, who has an undergraduate degree from the University of Washington, has been accepted to several medical schools, including UW, and planning to start this year. She is thinking primary care medicine as a career track.

“I think I am really good in one-on-one interactions,” Popovici said. “It appeals to me to work with patients that way.”

Popovici met with Hamilton in an emotional get-together a couple hours before game time. She was honored during a first-period TV timeout with Hamilton applauding nearby. The Kraken and Canucks surprised her with a $10,000 joint gift toward her upcoming medical school tuition and expenses.

Her thoughts by text right after finding out about the $10,000 award toward med school tuition: “Oh, wow, I can’t even type I’m shaking so hard. I cannot believe this!!!”

The 22-year-old Tacoma resident volunteers in oncology wards, which helped inform her about the mole on the back of Hamilton’s neck.

“I saw Red many times walking back and forth,” Popovici said. “I have the privilege to have knowledge [from the oncology wards]. If there was ever the picture-perfect visual of what malignant melanoma is, that [Hamilton’s mole] was it: the irregular borders, raised surface, discolored and large diameter.”

Talking to a phalanx of local and North American reporters and broadcasters via Zoom, Hamilton said Popovici’s phone message was not the typical text bubble. He called it colorful and said it contained enlarged letters to indicate the mole was cancer.

“I used the Notes app in my phone,” Popovici said. “When I held it up against the plexiglass, I smiled too, because I didn’t want him to think I was someone hating on him.”

No chance of that.

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