PHILLIPSBURG, NJ – A police-run nonprofit is spearheading a campaign to bring hope, strength and comfort to those who are fighting for their lives, while honoring the legacy of a brother in blue. Inspiration for those warriors comes in the form of a small Hulk figurine, a treasured possession of a beloved police officer who bravely battled multiple cancers for five years.
Brothers Before Others, “Rooted in Charity, Committed to Action,” is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity founded in 2014. It is run by active and retired law enforcement officers.
The organization initially began as a closed Facebook group where police officers could share their stories with an understanding audience. From there, it grew and developed into a charitable organization, with its initial objective being to provide floral arrangements to fallen officers’ departments and families. Brothers Before Others has so far provided over 650 floral arrangements.
In addition, Brothers Before Others has taken on many other charitable activities to help and support officers and their families.
One initiative, the Eric Dial Hulk Project, has been bringing strength and inspiration to people who are battling huge medical odds against them.
The Eric Dial Hulk Project is named in honor of beloved police officer Eric Dial, who served with the Philadelphia Police Department. Dial served 8 years as a narcotics officer, serving 3 years undercover. He was also a member of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Warrant Entry Team as well as their Rapid Response Team.
Dial was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer, which had metastasized to his liver, at the young age of 34. He spent the last five years of his life bravely battling various forms of cancer, standing tall and strong in the face of his life-threatening illnesses.
According to Joshua Oliveri, 2nd Vice President of Brothers Before Others, Dial was “quite simply, a giant human being in both stature and personality.”
A small Lego Hulk figurine accompanied Dial through his 5-year battle, serving as an inspiration to him and his family.
In the midst of his brave fight, Dial wrote on social media in 2013:
“When something bad happens, you have three choices.
“You can either let it define you, let it destroy you or you can let it strengthen you.”
Sadly, in September of 2015, the strong yet gentle Dial succumbed to his cancers.
However, thanks to the Brothers Before Others Eric Dial Hulk Project, others who are bravely fighting for their lives have been able to draw on Dial’s strong and honorable legacy by holding the very Hulk Figurine that inspired Dial through his own medical trials.
Retired NYPD officer Michael Burke, founder and president of Brothers Before Others, said of Brothers Before Others and the Eric Dial Hulk Project:
“I didn’t know what to expect when starting this charity in 2014, but the amount of initiatives/ projects that have come from having like minded people come together is amazing.
“We are truly blessed by the families who are literally on the fight of their life allowing us in.
“Their fight is our fight.
“Now let’s SMASH these medical issues just like the Hulk.”
The passing of the Hulk figurine, and the legacy of strength from Eric Dial, began with Philadelphia Police Officer Jesse Hartnett, who was struck in 2016 by bullets 3 times at point-blank range in an ambush. Despite being gravely wounded, Hartnett was able to return fire at the suspect, who was ultimately apprehended.
Eric Dial’s widow, Jeaneane, visited Hartnett in the hospital as he was fighting for his life.
Joshua Oliveri wrote in an introduction letter that accompanies the Hulk figurine:
“Along with prayers and words of encouragement, she brought Jesse Eric’s Hulk figurine….
“Jesse carried the Hulk through his recovery and drew inspiration from both it and the legacy of the man it came from.”
In 2017, Hartnett passed on the Hulk to Philadelphia Police Officer and Brothers Before Others administrator Joe Leighthardt, who had been given only months to live due to a serious brain disorder. Leighthardt rallied, helped by support from Brothers Before Others and the inspiration from the Hulk figurine, defying the odds against him.
“Jesse knew what inspiration had been drawn from the figurine and, more importantly, knew that Joe needed it now more than ever.”
Next, the figurine found its way into the hands of retired Fanwood Police Sergeant and Brothers Before Others member Russ Yeager.
Yeager was stricken with a serious infection that required amputation of his leg from the knee down. As Brothers Before Others rallied around him, Yeager drew inspiration from Dial’s Hulk figurine.
“While Russ’ journey is far from over and he continues to battle through related health issues with the Hulk by his side, the grace, generosity, benevolence and true grit that Russ has displayed throughout is a tribute to Eric Dial and the legacy he has left behind.
“Russ understands fraternity on a level that few who wear a shield ever really comprehend.”
Empowered by the Hulk figurine and Dial’s enduring legacy, Yeager passed on the Hulk to a brave, strong young lady, Emerson Oliveri, daughter of Brothers Before Others 2nd Vice President Joshua Oliveri.
Emerson has been facing incredible odds since before she was born. She had a left-sided congenital diaphragmatic hernia, meaning that her diaphragm had not closed and as a result, her abdominal organs migrated into her chest. She was given a 25% chance of survival.
Emerson required life-saving care from the moment of her birth, when she began to suffocate because her internal organs were crushing her lungs.
Emerson had to be on a ventilator the first several months of her life, and she has required multiple complicated surgeries and medical interventions during the last 14 years. One innovative surgical repair required surgeons to cut away two ribs and use a portion of her latissimus muscle to repair the hole where her diaphragm should have been.
Emerson took inspiration from the Hulk figurine as she endured and recovered from her most recent hospital stay and repair.
This brave young lady wrote in a journal that accompanies the Hulk figure:
“Hi! This is Emerson.
“I hope this hulk helps you, just like it helped me though my tough time.
“I hope it reminds you of how strong you are!
“We are all thinking about you, and know that you will beat this.”
Emerson has kindly passed the Hulk along to 15-month-old Joey “JP” Stedman, the son of a New York State Police trooper.
JP was born with Biliary Atresia, a rare congenital condition in which bile ducts are blocked so that bile cannot flow from the liver into the intestine. There is no cure.
JP underwent a procedure called the Kasai, which restored bile flow, but he still suffered many complications of his condition, including multiple episodes of cholangitis (bile duct infection) requiring weeks of IV antibiotics.
In his short life, JP has required many medical procedures and interventions, most recently a liver transplant from a living donor.
During his recovery, JP has been able to enjoy the Hulk figurine.
JP’s parents wrote on social media:
“Today we received the ‘Incredible Hulk’ from a little girl named Emerson.
“This Hulk represents the metaphorical strength and resilience during times of pain and injustice….
“We are honored to be part Hulk’s journey and continue Eric’s legacy.”
Please follow the Eric Dial Hulk Project on its Facebook page for more stories of how the Hulk figurine has inspired others as they fight for their lives.
For those who wish to support Brothers Before Others financially as this police-run nonprofit continues its charitable work, please follow this link to the charity’s donation page.
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