Ndamukong Suh has profound impact on young Lions' fan and his family

Posted Feb 7, 2013

Detroit Lions DT Ndamukong Suh befriends Kaden Schmale, who lost an 8 1/2-year battle with brain cancer on Monday

Ndamukong Suh and Kaden Schmale

Ndamukong Suh posted a photo and heartfelt message on his Twitter and Facebook accounts Tuesday.

It said: "My dear friend Kaden lost his battle w cancer last night. He's 4evr in my heart. Pray4 his family in their time of need"

For a player who is often criticized for the way he plays the game of football, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has a much softer side.

In fact, just days after the passing of 14-year-old Kaden Schmale, his aunt, April, couldn't say enough about her friend, Ndamukong, and the way he impacted her nephew.

"Ndamukong has such a big heart that he felt like if there was anything he could do for (Kaden), he would," said April Schmale.

Ndamukong and Kaden got to know each other through April Schmale, who met Suh through a mutual friend and worked for a large travel agency in Nebraska when Suh was still attending college.

April handled travel for Suh post-graduation when he was shuttling back and forth between NFL interviews and mentioned her nephew to the athlete.

"I told Ndamukong how much of a fan he was of him at Nebraska," said April. "They got to know each other through me."

Kaden was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2004 at the age of six.

The tumor was a centralized form of cancer that was removed with brain surgery. Kaden had a year's worth of chemotherapy and radiation, and was declared in remission, or cancer-free.

He received annual follow-up MRIs following his clean bill of health and all was clear for five years.

When he went in for the MRI six years after he was declared cancer-free, the doctor told the family he would probably be in the clear since after making it so far.

"We kind of let our guard down," said April. "Then he went back in in February or March of 2009 for his MRI and they said it had come back, but this time it was Glioblastoma, which is the most aggressive type of brain cancer there is and isn't typically seen in children."

Doctors weren't sure how to treat it, but performed another brain surgery to remove the tumor and then followed up with another 10 months of chemotherapy.

"The chemo would hold it off for awhile and then it would turn around and continue to grow," said April. "He had three brain surgeries in all; one in March of 2009, one of March of 2010.

"We basically, at that point, said this type (of cancer) has fingers and burrows down into the brain – we just weren't able to get it all.

"The average life expectancy after diagnosis of Glioblastoma is 12 months and he made it almost three years. So he's a fighter."

Suh had given April items to help encourage Kaden through his therapy process, including a Detroit Lions jersey as a "chemo present" following what the family hoped would be his final session in March of 2011.

Six weeks after that final session, however, the cancer started growing again.

"Ndamukong had invited us to come up to a game and I said, ‘I'd really love to bring Kaden,'" said April. "He's said, ‘Absolutely.'

"We worked it out to come to the home opener of the (2012) season. The three of us (Kaden, April and Kaden's mom, Sherri) came up to the suite and came to the game and Ndamukong came up and spent some time with us after the game."

The game Kaden attended was the team's regular season opener against the St. Louis Rams.

In that game, the Lions trailed by three heading into the final minute of regulation.

"I said to Kaden, ‘Oh, my God, they're going to end up kicking a field goal and we're going to go into overtime,' and he said, ‘No, they're not. They're going to score a touchdown and win,'" said April.

"Literally the next play, Matt Stafford threw like a 5-yard touchdown pass and they scored and they won with like 10 seconds left. We were just like, ‘You've got to be kidding me.'"

Following that game, Suh surprised Kaden in the suite.

"I didn't tell him that we were going to meet him," said April. "His face just turned bright red and he kind of looked at Ndamukong and looked at me and looked back and Ndamukong like, ‘Oh my God, is this really him?'

"(Ndamukong) came over and they talked for probably 20 minutes, just about everything."

Kaden, his aunt, April, and his mom, Sherri, made that trip out to Detroit the first weekend of September.

Almost five months to the day – Monday, February 4 – Kaden lost his battle with cancer.

"I wanted to give him and my sister memories for them – especially my sister - knowing what was probably going to be the outcome with this type of cancer," said April of the family's trip to Detroit.

"I was so thankful that Ndamukong wanted to be a part of and wanted to give him those memories."

Those memories have ultimately turned Kaden's family into full-fledged Lions fans.

"(These athletes are) in a position to raise awareness and just give people hope," said April.

"(Kaden) just looked up to him so much. It just gave him encouragement to keep going."