Family of Barrett Fitzsimmons overwhelmed by Jim Harbaugh’s gesture

Michigan Wolverines football coach Jim Harbaugh accomplished the impossible Wednesday, endearing himself to fans in the middle of Buckeye country. More importantly, Harbaugh brightened the day of a sick 6-year-old from Springfield and his family.

Barrett Fitzsimmons, a student at Northwestern Elementary School, was diagnosed with cancer in May when doctors found a mass on his liver during an ultrasound to check a bladder problem. He has Hepatocellular Carcinoma Stage 4 and began chemotherapy Wednesday night at Dayton Children’s Hospital.

That same day, Harbaugh visited Springfield High School with his assistant coaches for a satellite camp. Blake Shaffer, a friend of Brad Fitzsimmons, Barrett’s dad, arranged for Harbaugh to send a video message to Barrett, and the coach did much more than that.

After accepting one of the “Barrett Strong” T-shirts friends of the family had printed in support of Barrett, Harbaugh spoke as Shaffer filmed him with a cell phone.

“Hi, Barrett, it’s Jim Harbaugh, coach of the Michigan Wolverines,” Harbaugh said. “I heard you like the Wolverines. I’m really excited to have this shirt. Thank you very much. It’s a wonderful gift. I want you to have my hat, my whistle and my shirt. And I want you to come to a game in Ann Arbor this fall. Pick a game, any game you want. We have eight home games. You just keep fighting and smiling, and the good Lord will taking a liking to you, buddy. Come see us in Ann Arbor, and I look very forward to meeting you.”

Thor Bisher and Scott Greene, other friends of the family, helped arrange the video with Harbaugh. Bisher shot photos of Harbaugh wearing the “Barrett Strong” T-shirt. Bisher had one of the photos printed and then brought it back for Harbaugh to sign.

Shaffer, Bisher and Greene then took the photo and video — plus Harbaugh’s hat, whistle and sweatshirt — to Dayton to give to Barrett, who at that time was only 30 minutes into his first chemotherapy session. It had been pushed back from earlier in the day.

They played the Harbaugh video for Barrett and his parents, Brad and Lana.

“I was just overwhelmed,” Brad said. “I couldn’t believe he would take the time to do that, let alone give him the shirt off his back, literally.”

Barrett felt well enough to watch and was excited. He hasn’t decided if he’s a Michigan fan yet, his dad said. Brad became a Michigan fan growing up because one of his friend’s dads was a Michigan fan. His wife comes from a family of Ohio State fans. Barrett has been in the middle.

“I think this will help persuade things,” Brad said with a laugh.

"Barrett Strong" is a reference to a Facebook page of the same name that has more than 1,800 members. There is also a fund-raising campaign for the family on that has raised $6,000 for medical expenses.

“Everyone has been behind us,” Brad said.

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