TODAY

TODAY   |  December 17, 2013

Former first responders turn tragedy into hope

A number of former first responders have used their personal tragedies to help support others, creating a nonprofit organization to reach out to other first responders.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> this morning on hope to it, heros helping heros.

>> first responders are flown for rushing right in to an emergency to help others, but when they're faced with a crisis, they're often the last to ask for help.

>> a former firefighter starts an organization called wish givers.

>> reporter: this is actually to honor a police lieutenant and his youngest son jake who couldn't be there.

>> his wife is with jake at the hospital right now.

>> reporter: while mark works he have day to prevent crime, jake is battling a rare cancer.

>> it's emergency room visits in the middle of the night , it's chemotherapy and the side effects that accompany it. you're on 24/7. you basically live your life minute to minute.

>> reporter: this fundraiser for jake 's medical expenses has been put together by an organization called wish givers. they focus on first responders around the country who have critically sick children. so far they have helped at least 30 families providing money and support for children like brendan, a boston area firefighter's son who is fighting leukemia. and a wish trip to new york city for sabrina, the caught of a police officer in pennsylvania.

>> they have do compartmentalize because they're trained to not feel. so you can do your job. how do you compartmentalize when it's your own child.

>> reporter: the co-founder knows the challenge of balancing a high stress job as a first responder with a sick child. he's a former new york city fireman. his son, dustin , battled leukemia.

>> we ended up spending an average of 100 days a year in the hospital for 4 1/2 years. these children go through painful procedures. it was just -- it was devastating.

>> reporter: at age 7, dustin lost his fight with cancer. p.j. honored did you say tip's memory by helping police, firefighters and military family so is they don't have to feel alone.

>> we're trying to save lives and protect lives. and the one life that you want to save, you're helpless. and it's crippling. the feeling is crippling.

>> reporter: in addition to raising money for the families of firt respost responder, they also collect toys and arts supplies to bring to hospitals for all kids. this delivery is headed to the same children's hospital in philadelphia where p.j.'s son dustin was treated.

>> i really miss him.

>> reporter: it's p.j.'s first time back at the hospital since dustin 's death.

>> i'm going to let one balloon outside for dustin . i love you, little boy .

>> reporter: with the memory of a life taken too soon, the group hopes to help bring joy to america's heros big and small.

>> now, this is something that i think will make you smile. you're very welcome. you seem like you're stronger than i am.

>> no.

>> yes, you are. you have more courage than anybody in this place.

>> rocks you back on your feet when you see that, but you realize the strength of all of these folks including these kids.

>> such a brotherhood among first responders. beautiful to see it come together.

>> hard when you see big guys like that start to get emotional.

>> our thoughts and prayers go out to the lieutenant's family and his son jake as they continue to undergo cancer treatments . to find out more,