Landon Donovan's stoppage-time goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup was one of those "Where were you when ..." moments for sports fans across the country. For then 6-year-old Brendan Galanaugh, it was a way to forget where he was -- a hospital bed.
Galanaugh was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in February 2010. As the months of treatment wore on and the chemotherapy kicked in his immune system, he had to be isolated in his hospital room. Just him, sometimes a family member. And, well, the U.S. World Cup team.
"It was a unique opportunity because Brendan is a huge soccer fan and it gave him something to focus on to help pass the time," said Dan Galanaugh, Brendan's father. "There we are at 5:30 in the morning, I barely had a cup of coffee in me and we're turning on the World Cup."
Soccer always has been a part of the Galanaugh family. Brendan's two older sisters love the sport. His father played club soccer in addition to refereeing for a number of years. And his Lakewood, Colo., community is known for having an excellent youth program.
Anyone who's had a child heavily involved in youth sports knows bumps and bruises are part of the deal. But the size and appearance of Brendan's bruises in the fall of 2010 caused Dan and his wife, Becky, to make a doctor's appointment. Blood tests confirmed their biggest fear. It was leukemia.
"At the time he was diagnosed, he was still only 5 years old. It's not a day I'll ever forget. It's just very traumatic to hear those words," Dan said.
Doctors emphasized that catching Brendan's leukemia in its early stages made it treatable, but they also were realistic about the hardships. Chemo as soon and as often as possible. Several months in the hospital. No more soccer.
To stay connected to their jobs, Brendan's parents worked limited schedules and set guidelines with their employers. One of Dan's rules? He'd always have his cellphone on in meetings. And he'd always step out to answer if the hospital's number flashed across the screen.
His emotions had been trained to find concern in a certain array of digits. But on a warm Wednesday in June, the hospital number appeared for a different reason. Donovan had scored in extra time to put the U.S. into the elimination round of the World Cup. And Brendan called to explain how it all happened.
"Even though I wasn't watching with him, I could hear his emotion over the phone. He was just so excited. ... It was a great moment. It really was," Dan said.
Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Brendan's moments with Donovan were only beginning.
Brendan was cleared to start participating in sports in January. Watching the World Cup had been a good distraction, but he couldn't wait to play in his local indoor soccer league. The morning of his first game, Brendan caught his toe and tripped. He was at the top of a staircase, and by the time he reached the bottom, his collarbone was broken. Done for the season. Again.
But just like those early mornings in the hospital, Donovan was there to lift his spirits. Through Make-A-Wish, the whole Galanaugh family soon found out they would be flying to Los Angeles to meet Donovan and his Los Angeles Galaxy teammates.
Despite being huge Colorado Rapids fans, the Galanaughs were given Hollywood treatment. With a healed collarbone and a gigantic smile, Brendan checked out the Galaxy's locker room, sat in on their practice, and kicked a ball around with players and staff. The Galanaughs met Galaxy president Tom Payne, coach Bruce Arena and, yes, even David Beckham. "His sisters were more interested in meeting him. Shock of all shocks," Dan quipped.
Donovan topped off the Galanaughs' exciting day by presenting Brendan with special field passes to the next day's game. The U.S. soccer star had struggled to find the back of the net in recent contests. But no struggle on the field compared to what Brendan and his family had been through. And maybe that's what went through Donovan's mind when he took the field the next day.
"Landon scored two goals that game. And coming off the field, he sees Brendan, peels his jersey off and gives it to him," Dan said. "He picks him up and gives him a big hug. Calls him his good luck charm. 'You know how long it's been since I've scored a goal, let alone two?' he said. That hug that he gave Brendan, I won't forget that anytime soon."
Editor's note: Brendan's leukemia remains in remission. He played injury-free soccer all spring and is now running around a baseball diamond in his hometown of Lakewood, Colo.
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