Bryan Stepanenko and Norm Engel made a life-long connection that started 25 years ago when Bryan was just four and was battling leukemia. The duo met again Wednesday to celebrate another milestone.
It all started at the Make-a-Wish Foundation in 1989. Bryan had one wish, to go to Disney World. Engel, a firefighter, granted that wish and made quite an impact on the young man.
“As soon as we opened the door, this little wild man is running around, all smiles, and his sister, you’d never know the kid was sick,” Engel said of meeting Bryan.
“His face is always a part of my memories, but also the fire station that he had brought my sister and I to,” Bryan said of Engel. “He showed us some of the trucks. He had us dress up in some of the fire gear.”
Two decades later, a letter from Bryan’s dad made its way to Norm at his fire station.
“The goosebumps and the tears,” Engel said. “The most defining lie was when his dad said, ‘We’re looking for Norm Engel. He used to be part of the organization. He was a very big part of our life when my son was diagnosed with leukemia and I want to let him know that not only did he survive; he’s a happy and healthy 21-year-old firefighter paramedic.’”
When Bryan was ready to graduate, Norm was there again with another once in a lifetime surprise: he was going to pin Bryan with his newly earned badge.
“I started reading a speech I made, which I thought I’d be able to get through. It was tough. There really wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including us,” Norm said.
Bryan is not only trying to help others by working as a firefighter/paramedic, he’s also working on become a doctor and has one year left of med school. He’s also working on becoming a volunteer with the Make-a-Wish foundation.