T.J. SIMERS

Young superhero has a team behind him

This 'Iron Man' inspires with his strength and his sweetness. His family and other supporters are behind him all the way.

Sounds strange, I know. But I hope you never have reason to meet Dr. Noah Federman, who makes his living saving children's lives.

Extraordinary guy. Take all the athletes I've met in more than 40 years and this is my hero, even though he has to admit, "Some see me coming and it's a visceral reaction; they put their heads in a trash can and throw up.

"I'm not that ugly," he protests, and we argue for the next 10 minutes.

I wear a hat with the name of the place where he works to every game as a reminder to athletes how lucky they have it. Most just look at it as a hat.

It might be five years since I last saw Federman.

But I get an email from Jeffrey Hughes. I've never heard of Hughes, but he mentions Federman, Ben Howland and John Wooden. And I'm a sucker for anything Wooden.

He mentions another extraordinary human being who happens to be his own son, 9-year-old Jeffrey Jr.

He says Wooden once held a 3-month-old Jeffrey in his arms. "He wouldn't let go," Hughes says.

Wooden always did have an eye for talent.

Hughes says Jeffrey Jr. is now Howland's friend. I didn't know Howland had friends.

He says Howland has visited with Jeffrey for more than a year, and he says the last time Howland met with his son he told him, "I love you."

I only know Howland as a screamer who goes through life gritting his teeth and overcoaching. I email Howland to find out if he's OK.

Howland calls. He starts talking about "the toughest kid he's ever known," so I figure we're discussing Saturday's game with Arizona.

But he says, "He's just 9," and so we're talking Jeffrey. "You want your players to be tough, but let me tell you about tough. You should meet him."

So I do. First person I see is Federman, and I don't like where this is going. The kid, meanwhile, has his head in a throw-up bucket.

My first thought is poor kid, he's going to have to stay hospitalized and miss Saturday night's basketball game. Way to go Federman.

Then I meet the kid's parents. All these years following sports and it's amazing how the best people are usually parents.

And 14 months ago they were parents just like you.

They have four kids, three of them parked between the ages of 5 and 8 at the time. Jeffrey is the 8-year-old, a third-grader with a stomachache sent to the school nurse.

It's a Monday; by Thursday they are talking about putting him in the hospital.

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