Green Bay Metro firefighters send inspiration to Alabama girl battling cancer
Humbled and amazed.
That's how a family in Alabama feels after receiving an outpouring of support from all over the world for their daughter as she fights cancer.
And now she's about to get a little love from Northeast Wisconsin.
Firefighters here are donating a massive collection of patches to help the once-stranger they now consider family.
Captain Eric Johnson remembers collecting just one of the hundreds of firefighter patches the Green Bay Metro Fire Department now has in its collection.
"I walked into a fire station in Germany asking for a patch, and the guy didn't have any, and he took a uniform out of his locker and cut his sleeve off, and 'Here you go.'"
In 2004, as Johnson returned from active military duty, he started collecting patches from other fire departments.
When other firefighters visit Green Bay, they trade.
"It just kind of blossomed from there," says Johnson.
The collection has grown to more than 400 patches from all over the world.
The patches line the walls of Station 4 right now, but soon, they'll be arriving on the doorstep of Mileena Painter in Riverside, Alabama, outside Birmingham.
"I'm hoping this will take her mind off of her medical problems for a little while," says Johnson.
Mileena is battling a very aggressive form of leukemia.
She's been in and out of the hospital since being diagnosed last fall on her second day of 6th grade.
It was her father's job as a firefighter the last 41 years that sparked the idea to start collecting firefighter patches as part of a project while she rested at home while receiving treatments.
"Our town has about 2,200 citizens, and for probably about two weeks Mileena received more mail each day than the entire city did," Mileena's mother, Rachelle Painter, tells us by phone.
Mileena's story made local headlines a few months ago, and eventually Captain Johnson stumbled upon it online. Immediately he wanted to chip in.
"I just got to thinking, if we could make her day and bring a smile to her, make her feel a little better, then it's worth it," he says.
He'll be sending the 400-some patches out in a few days, expanding Mileena's already vast collection.
She's already received so many, her mom says she has to learn how to sew so she can make them into quilts.
But it's the love and support that accompany the patches that truly makes the difference.
"Firefighters are like family," says Rachelle. "That they're praying for us has made an amazing difference for us, because without those prayers, we wouldn't be where we are."