The following is the second of two blogs telling the story of Charlie Dina, the son of Parker’s long-time salesperson, Angela Dina. For Part One, please link to: http://blog.parkersu.com/2013/05/03/charlies-story-part-one/. Due to its length, we debated whether or not we should divide the story into three parts. In the end, we decided we did not want to make everyone wait for the conclusion. We hope you enjoy reading the rest of the story as much as we have enjoyed telling it. – The Parker Blog
Americans love to root for the underdog. We always have. After all, our country is one of history’s biggest underdog success stories. Americans also love sports. Just think about the sports we’ve invented – baseball, basketball and, American football. It makes sense then that almost all of us love to tell and re-tell our favorite stories of sports underdogs. No sports fan can watch Hoosiers or The Blind Side without getting a little teary-eyed, especially because they are both based on true stories. We love knowing that the little guy sometimes really does come out on top.
Charlie Dina is an underdog. Not in a sporting sense, of course, but in a medical sense. Doctors never attached a percentage to Charlie’s chances of recovery. In fact, they strongly suggested that his parents, Mike and Angela, NOT Google Neuroblastoma because they did not want the family to get discouraged. Angela will tell you that she and Mike felt unspeakably overwhelmed as they sat in Texas Children’s Hospital after Charlie’s diagnosis. Two things made that first night bearable — their faith in God and the support of two of their good friends who managed to sneak past security so they could be with Mike and Angela when they needed them most. It was then, as Angela looked at their dear friends and felt so grateful for their presence, that the term “Charlie’s Angels” first popped into her head. Number of Charlie’s Angels: 2.
In the first few days after Charlie’s diagnosis, another good friend of the Dina’s, Courtney Taylor, offered to order rubber arm bands for friends and family to wear in support of Charlie. She thought that each time the wearer looked at the band, they would be reminded to pray for him. But what should the band look like? For input, Angela turned to Charlie. For whatever reason, Charlie said he wanted the bands to be bright yellow. What should the band say? The term “Charlie’s Angels” popped into Angela’s head again and she knew it was the right choice. She also suggested they include a favorite verse of the Dina family: Phillipians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. The verse had taken on a new and powerful meaning since Charlie’s diagnosis.
With those decisions made, Courtney placed the first order for the prayer bands. The Dinas handed them out to neighbors, friends at Charlie’s and Caroline’s schools, Parker employees, etc. News of Charlie’s illness began to spread. On October 9, the day of Charlie’s first surgery, people sported Charlie’s Angels t-shirts and armbands all over town. His preschool also posted “We’re praying for Charlie Dina” on their billboard, prompting people to ask, “who is Charlie Dina?” Those of us who knew the family were encouraged by the groundswell of support they were receiving. Number of Charlie’s Angels: 200 and growing fast.
Most people know the saying “truth is stranger than fiction.” It is at this point that Charlie’s story becomes very strange in a very good way. On October 20, after some debate, Angela and Mike decided to attend the #18 Texas A&M and #6 LSU football game in College Station. Charlie was recovering well from his surgery and the Dina’s, both A&M grads, had been looking forward to going to the game for months. It promised to be a “normal” day in the midst of all the craziness. Even better, with only two losses, A&M was playing surprisingly well despite having a first year coach and a 19-year old, freshman quarterback named Johnny Manziel. While watching an A&M football game a few weeks before, Charlie had declared Johnny Football his favorite player. Johnny was also an underdog. A virtual unknown, he battled two other quarterbacks during spring football to win the starting job.
During the game, Angela just happened to find herself in line at the concession stand next to a neighbor from Houston, Rhonda Overbergen. Rhonda is a loyal UT Longhorn fan, but that day, she was wearing A&M maroon jeans. Angela couldn’t help but notice. When asked about the color choice, Rhonda said that she wouldn’t think to wear the jeans were it not for the fact that her cousin was the A&M quarterback. Surprised by the connection, Angela mentioned that Johnny Football was Charlie’s favorite player. After some more discussion, Rhonda left Angela with one of the Charlie’s Angels arm bands in her purse and a promise to give it to Johnny later that evening. A&M committed five turnovers against LSU and lost the game 25-19. It would be the Aggiest last loss of the season. Later that night Angela received a text from Rhonda who had met up with the Manziels after the game and shared Charlie’s story. She wanted Angela to know that she had given the arm band to Johnny and that the entire Manziel family was committed to praying for Charlie.
One week later the Dinas were surprised to see Johnny wearing Charlie’s arm band during the Auburn game. The bright yellow color made it hard to miss. A&M easily won the game 63 to 21. The following Saturday, #16 A&M faced #18 Mississippi State. The Dinas were curious if Johnny would still be sporting the arm band. He was, and the Aggies again won 38 to 13. By the time A&M played #1 ranked Alabama on November 3, Charlie was finishing a long round of radiation treatments in preparation for his stem cell transplant. Johnny Football turned in an incredible performance in the Alabama game, accounting for over 350 yards of A&M’s total offense, including two passing touchdowns. To the euphoria of A&M fans, the Aggies won the game 29 to 24. A&M finished the season with two more wins and Johnny went into the bowl season as the odds on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.
Behind the scenes, Angela had started writing Johnny letters of encouragement and Johnny sent Charlie a signed football and jersey for his 5th birthday. The Dinas and Manziels had still never spoken in person. On Friday, November 21, Charlie entered Texas Children’s to begin the grueling stem cell transplant process. During the days leading up to the Heisman ceremony, Houston sportscaster and A&M graduate, Greg Bailey, got wind of the relationship between Charlie and Johnny and set up an interview with the Dinas at Texas Children’s. They managed to find a few minutes to talk in the middle of what was turning out to be the absolute low point in Charlie’s treatment. ABC Channel 13 ran the interview over a series of evenings leading up to the awards ceremony on Saturday, December 8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhCx_nNQAgE
Fans of college football know that on that night Johnny Football became the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy. Most of us would assume that the Dinas were glued to the TV, but we would be wrong. Charlie was so unspeakably sick in the hospital that Johnny’s win was a blip on their radar. They knew it had happened and were happy for Johnny, but they had bigger worries. It was the very next day that Charlie’s heart failed and the doctors didn’t know why. During his post-Heisman interview, Johnny was asked about his Charlie’s Angel’s armband. His answer spoke volumes about how much Charlie had meant to him during the season. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQ5p3A6EmW8
Thanks to the Heisman ceremony, Charlie Dina’s name became known internationally. Media calls started pouring into Texas Children’s from all over the world. Requests for the Charlie’s Angels arm bands grew into the thousands. Angela and Mike believe that all the extra prayers and support were instrumental in Charlie’s miraculous recovery. Within days, Charlie’s heart returned to normal function, leaving doctors unable to explain what had just happened. Number of Charlie’s Angels: 7,000+.
On February 24, just over three months after Charlie entered the hospital for his stem cell transplant, Johnny made good on his promise to bring his Heisman to his young friend. The entire Manziel family visited the Dinas in their home and spent the day finally getting to know each other better. What started out as a chance meeting at the concession stand had turned into a special bond. No one can look at the pictures of Johnny and Charlie together without seeing how much they love each other. The feeling is mutual between all the family members. Even Johnny’s younger sister, Meri, has helped Charlie’s older sister, Caroline, work through what it means to have a brother who receives so much attention. We love this picture of Charlie holding his T-ball trophy from last spring alongside Johnny’s Heisman. Could there be a sweeter picture?
Both families are now committed to raising funding and awareness for Neuroblastoma research. Angela and Mike are in the final stages of establishing the Charles M. Dina Foundation for that very purpose. Last month, the foundation received its first donation of $20,000 thanks to a charity golf tournament held at Meri’s school, Allen Academy in Bryan, TX (http://www.allenacademy.org/). Johnny and Charlie spent the day together happily driving around in a golf cart, just two underdogs enjoying a sunny day together with no cares in the world.
Last Wednesday, the Dinas returned to Texas Children’s to begin two days of scans to detect if there was any cancer left in Charlie’s body. We are so excited to share with you their wonderful news — Charlie is CANCER FREE! We can’t think of a better way to end our blog. Charlie’s story will of course continue. Every three months for the next year at least the Dinas will make the trip back to the hospital for more follow up scans. The family will also turn their attention to how best to direct the funds from Charlie’s foundation. The Parker Blog will keep you all updated as we learn more about how you can contribute to their effort. For now, if you would like to order a Charlie’s Angels armband, please send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org
In August, Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies will enter the college football season ranked by some as the preseason favorite to win the national championship. Around the same time, Charlie Dina will enter the front door of his school to begin his next adventure – Kindergarten. After all, sometimes little guys really do come out on top. We hope you will join us in cheering them both on from the sidelines. Number of Charlie’s Angels: Only time will tell.