A young man from Denver who has a terminal illness received a phone call from his sports hero, Peyton Manning.
Martin’s eyes suggested he didn’t quite believe it, even when he heard Peyton Manning say, “Omaha.”
This was not a prank, nor some voice impostor. Peyton Manning was on the phone.
“Martin, it’s Peyton Manning, it’s nice to talk to you,” Manning said.
Through his own charity work and children’s hospital in Indianapolis, Manning’s impact extends far beyond the norm of a pro jock, and with this one call he made a difference that he will likely never fully appreciate.
Martin Howe, 18, of Portland has about two to three weeks to live.
Howe was diagnosed with Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma last September. Although the oncologist originally told Martin that “it was a chip shot,” the treatments did not work as planned. On March 20, he was released from Portland’s Oregon Health Sciences hospital after the doctors told him there was nothing else they could do.
He had been quite withdrawn since the news was delivered, until Manning called.
On Saturday evening, a mutual friend contacted me to see if there was any way Manning could talk to him. One email to the Broncos’ PR director Patrick Smyth later, a call was arranged.
The future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback was contacted on Sunday morning about Martin, and he called that evening. On his own birthday.
“We had about 100 people over the day before and he was exhausted,” said his stepfather, Justin. “For him to muster up the energy to be able to take that call, it was priceless.”
One of Martin’s relatives said, “This is literally the best thing that will have happened to him in 18 years on the planet.”
Martin recently graduated from high school, with a 3.9 grade point average, complete with a ceremony in his Portland home.
Before that call, relatives said Martin had been quite withdrawn. Since learning the last diagnosis, he had been quiet.
One of Martin’s last wishes is to return to Denver, where he and his family had vacationed previously, which included attending Broncos’ games. On Monday, the family relocated to Denver.
Long before Martin was diagnosed his path was full of health problems, and emotional trauma.
He had a kidney transplant when he was 2, and he has a mild case of cerebral palsy. He is also on the autism spectrum, per his step dad. Martin is also anemic and has Crohn’s disease.
His mother, Joni, had three miscarriages.
Approximately eight years ago, his biological father willingly left his life.
“There was a court date and his father no-showed,” Justin said. “I think that one always really bothered him.”
Martin had been through so much that the family used to joke cancer was the one thing Martin would not encounter. And when they learned the diagnosis, the reaction was, “A few tears and then it was, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Justin said.
Martin’s reaction was to simply clap his hands and say, “OK. Let’s do it.”
Any time there was a visit to a doctor, or another needle required, he always had the same reaction.
The first round of treatments last year were successful. The lab results were positive. Even the Crohn’s symptoms began to fade.
But, for whatever reason, the cancer returned. And grew.
“There were some really low points in the hospital,” Justin said. “He would hallucinate. He was not himself. We are just trying to pull out those parts of him where we can say, ‘That’s him!”
Last year, the family began a movement based on Martin’s story and fight, www.nittystrong.com, to raise awareness about the illness. Justin, and family members began to make bracelets, and created a website with a blog and podcasts to chronicle this journey.
Seventeen days ago, his mother and Justin welcomed a new baby, Marley.
The family is now settling in just outside of downtown Denver. Although she had a C-section, Joni did not wait to recover. She returned immediately to her life, for her new daughter and son.
The family will soon take in a Denver Nuggets game. Martin wants to have his picture taken at Red Rocks Ampitheatre near Denver. The Broncos have extended an invite for Todd to visit their facility this week, too.
The family will hold a tailgate on Sunday in the parking lot of Mile High Stadium. After that, the plan is to take it easy, and to enjoy as many sun rises over the Denver skyline as possible.
At some point, both Joni and her husband will decompress and breathe.
“I’ve tried to share his story and spread his message and hope that it impacts somebody, even if it’s one person,” Justin said. “To be a better parent. A better friend. A better individual.”
Justin hopes to grow NittyStrong for kids who are enduring a similar fight as Martin’s to be able to enjoy attending a pro sporting event.
“His message is not to quit, and to just face your adversity head on,” Justin said. “If he touches one person, then there is a legacy there.”