Two years ago, Chadwick Boseman paid an unforgettable visit to the children and families at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, TN.
In the wake of the news of Boseman's shocking death on Aug. 28 at age 43, knowing now that during the visit the Black Panther star was waging his own private battle with colon cancer makes the extra time he spent with each child and their family even more precious, says Rick C. Shadyac, Jr., President and CEO of ALSAC, the hospital's fundraising and awareness organization.
“When Chadwick came to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in 2018, we knew he wouldn’t have a lot of time to spend with us. He had just finished filming Avengers: Endgame in Atlanta and made a special stop in Memphis while on his way back to Los Angeles," Shadyac Jr., tells PEOPLE. "He wanted to visit our patients, who come from across the world and are in treatment for cancer and other life-threatening diseases."
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Boseman's visit occurred just months after Black Panther hit theaters and everyone on site was excited to see the actor.
"We were honored that he would take a moment to come and spend time with the kids and their families. When it comes to number one superheroes our kids request visits from, Black Panther is at the top of that list," says Shadyac Jr. "What happened that day should surprise no one who knows him or who has gotten a sense of who he was based on the many tributes being shared. When celebrities visit, sometimes they meet with just a few children since some patients are having treatments at the time of the visits or are frankly too sick to take visitors. This time was different. When word got out that Chadwick was in the hospital and that he would be attending a special art party with patients, every child at St. Jude wanted to meet him."
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Shadyac Jr. continues: "We all know Chadwick played heroes on screen, and was a hero to so many offscreen as a friend, actor and advocate. That day, when his time with us was drawing to a close and the line of St. Jude patients was still long, Chadwick insisted on staying until he had the chance to greet every single patient. For the kids who couldn't attend the group art party due to their illness, Chadwick visited rooms and even helped one of our young patients celebrate her birthday in her hospital bed."
Looking back on that memorable day, Shadyac Jr. wonders if perhaps Boseman spent the extra time with the children and their families because he understood what they were going through.
"Maybe the sacrifice of time in the grand picture of life was beyond worth it in order to bring pure joy to these patients," he says. "It was time spent together that none of us will ever forget. It felt different than other visits like it. Because he was different. He was power and grace and love, and of course filled with personal perspective."
The two-year anniversary of Boseman's visit also coincides with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
"When I think about Chadwick’s battle with cancer I can’t help but hold his memory in my heart along with the wishes for an end to this unrelentingly cruel disease that takes away from us too many heroes, the biggest and the smallest,” says Shadyac Jr.
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