BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — News 4 is teaming with 97 Rock to highlight Bills fans who are taking their passion for the team off the field.
This week, fundraising t-shirt company 26 Shirts launched its seventh campaign to help local families.
The company uses Buffalo sports, often the Bills and Sabres, to accomplish their mission.
This time, it’s to help a little boy with cancer, whose father played football at UB, and whose story about what brought him to Buffalo set out a destiny that is hoped to save his son’s life.
It was just after 8 o’clock Thursday when Rich Sanders took a Facetime call from his son Andre.
Andre wasn’t doing well and needed some comfort. But he’s also a growing boy and needed something else.
“I want cheese in the eggs,” we could hear him say over the phone.
Rich could never have imagined the position in which he found himself Thursday — sitting down for an interview at News 4, the subject of a new community plea by 26 Shirts, talking about his son’s cancer, minutes before talking to him.
But here he was, back in Buffalo.
Rich was a force on UB’s defense as a standout linebacker from 2002-2005.
He found a job in security services after graduating and met his wife, who worked in kidney oncology at Roswell.
The family moved to south Florida in August to be closer to family. Soon after, Hurricane Dorian made it’s way to the east coast, and the Sanders headed north to Georgia.
“Just the size of it and the strength of it, I decided as a father, I didn’t want my children to go through that,” Sanders said. “Let’s just get away for the weekend.”
It was there Andre became increasingly ill.
After being first diagnosed with the flu, a second opinion would reveal something much more troubling — appendicitis.
It was during surgery that the doctor found something even worse.
“He found a tumor on Andre’s kidney,” Sanders said. “And at that moment, they say you feel it’s slow motion and time stands still. That was one of those moments where things were just a blur. I didn’t even hear anything else the doctor said.”
Decisions had to be made: They’d return to Buffalo and to Roswell, places that had already given them a life — to save their son’s. And the City of Good Neighbors took care of the rest.
“The family was in such a whirlwind based on their travels up from Florida, and then landing back here in western New York,” 26 Shirts Founder Del Reid said. “We really wanted to do something as immediate as possible to help them along in this really crazy transition that they’re in the middle of right now.
26 Shirts kicked off its seventh fundraising campaign Monday, with Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander and a new shirt.
“This is probably the toughest thing that I’ve ever gone through,” Sanders said. “He’s an extension of me. And when you find out that, nothing you can physically do in the physical world can change the scenario or change the outcome for him, it weighs on you.”
The Sanders tried to move away, to be closer to their family. But it is their Buffalo family on which they must now depend.
“I was destined to be in Buffalo,” Sanders said. “I was supposed to be in Buffalo. I don’t think I’m supposed to be here still. But this was supposed to be a part of my life story. And this city has become a part of me.”