Jim Demestihas is a friend of mine. From 7th grade. That’s 43 years now. We reconnected in the 90’s via, and he was everything I remembered him to be: charming, funny, still with that outrageous laugh (yes, I could hear it over the internet) and…a lady’s man.

After Gary Videlock, my Jewish neighbor who lived across the street from me growing up, and whose mother said it would be over her dead body that her son married an Italian, and another Gary from 2nd grade whose last name I can’t remember, “Jimmy” was my next crush. So smitten was I, I was going to name my firstborn child after him.

We had a few pleasant years reconnecting through airwaves, but then a devastating post came in one day. Devastating because it was every parent’s worst nightmare come true for my friend.

And so it is that his daughter Niki is the first person on this website to be honored for Being Somebody’s Hero.

Her story.

At six years old, Niki was a highly active, imaginative and humorous child, yet stubborn, and with a mind of her own. She loved all types of music, but especially classic rock and the Beatles. She liked being silly and was very happy. And just like her father, she was always demanding to be the center of attention.

But this is how she was before horror struck her and her family. Today, 12 years after she was first diagnosed with brain cancer, though she isn’t supposed to be living, amazingly, Niki’s personality remains the same.

Her father Jim, who nominated her as his Hero, says that his daughter gets her strength to cope with the aftereffects of her cure from him and his wife, but that Niki has the strength of the two of them together.

“Niki inspires me everyday with the way she faces her life’s challenges. From her ability to make everyone she meets smile and laugh, to just being a happy kid.” The latter trait being true, even if, because of the toll cancer took, she is no longer physically a kid.

“Niki qualifies as a Hero because she’s won every battle and overcome every challenge, yet never feels sorry for herself. She just shines with an inner light.”

When cancer hit the Demestihas family, the doctors said that Niki wouldn’t live even a few hours after the collapse that had brought her to the emergency room. When she surmounted that devastating prediction, they said that if she lived she would be in a vegetative state. Then it was she would maybe survive 5 years. And now, a dozen years later, and with Niki still very much alive, she has proved the doctors all wrong.

Jim says that his daughter is stronger and more of a winner than anybody he’s ever seen. And that when he’s feeling low she picks him right up, and just from her presence and smile. “How could she not be my hero?”

The other Heroes in Jim’s life are his wife Mary and his firstborn daughter Marisa.

Of his wife, she gave her life for her daughter. Literally. As if this noble family needed anything other than Blue Sky’s forever, sorrow struck them again. Mary’s heart gave out earlier this year, and she has since crossed over to the other side.

I’ve never had the honor of meeting Mary, but knowing Jim, I know that he wouldn’t have settled for anything less than a stunningly beautiful, smart, fun, loyal and loving woman to be by his side through life. And I suspect that is the least of what she is.

And his daughter Marisa, now there is a Hero. Jim says, “If it weren’t for Marisa I don’t know what I’d do.”

May God’s blessing shine down on Niki, Marisa and Jim. But I don’t have to wish that for them, as I’m sure Mary is demanding that for her family, and from every department in heaven above.

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