Rex Burkhead, FBI cheer up young cancer patients -
Livewell logo
  Get the Mobile App

Rex Burkhead, FBI cheer up young cancer patients

When 9-year-old Paul Hayes grows up, he wants to be an engineer or maybe a doctor. But for now, he's one of the youngest members of the FBI.

Paul, Jack Hoffman, 7, and Sammy Nahorny, 4, gathered Wednesday at the Omaha FBI headquarters, where they were named honorary agents.

They also met Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and toured Omaha on the “Huskers'' helicopter. The event was a welcome distraction from the boys' intensive cancer treatments.

For Paul, life changed in June. He urinated blood on a Friday morning and, after an MRI later that day, doctors diagnosed him with a rare form of kidney cancer called renal medullary carcinoma. They removed his right kidney three days later.

“It was pretty quick and pretty overwhelming,” said his father, Jonathan Hayes.

Paul, of Omaha, receives chemotherapy every Thursday and some Fridays, too.

Today, he and his family will find out whether he can spend Christmas break away from the hospital and, hopefully, how much longer he will need treatment.

Doctors diagnosed Jack Hoffman of Atkinson, Neb., with pediatric brain cancer last year. Sammy Nahorny of Columbus, Neb., has cancer of the adrenal system. He was diagnosed in July.

Sammy didn't get to go to preschool, and he can't play with friends or go to playdates like most 4-year-olds, said his mother, Erin Nahorny.

“This isn't exactly normal,” she said, “but it's so great to let them have this experience.”

The Omaha FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association sponsored the event. The nonprofit group promotes community safety through service projects and education.

Robert Chaplin, president of the association, said he hopes the day distracted the boys from their everyday struggles.

The boys talked with Burkhead and his teammates C.J. Zimmerer and Wil Richards. Jack is no stranger to Nebraska football. He formed a friendship with Burkhead when the two met last year after Jack was diagnosed.

The players signed T-shirts before a special agent swore in Paul, Jack and Sammy to the FBI.

Then, former Husker Tommie Frazier buckled them into the Nebraska-themed helicopter, a privately owned chopper with “Huskers” painted on the side, and joined them for a ride around Omaha.

“It's a nice bright light,” Jonathan Hayes said of the day's events. “There are times it's not so bright.”

When the helicopter landed, Paul grabbed a juice box, leaned on his dad and started to rethink his career plans.

“Maybe an FBI agent that engineers,” he said, with the hint of a smile playing across his face.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1071,,

Copyright ©2014 Omaha World-Herald®. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, displayed or redistributed for any purpose without permission from the Omaha World-Herald.

You may also like

An Omaha World-Herald digital product


Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Get weekly health tips via our newsletter.