Nicholas Stratton is 8 years old. He is a third-grader at Martin Elementary School in Manchester. He loves NASCAR.
He has epilepsy and cerebral palsy on his right side. He is essentially nonverbal. But when the image of race cars and then driver Joey Logano appeared on the movie screen in front of Nicholas Thursday night at the Sea Tea Improv Theater in Hartford, he started making car noises and saying, "Go, go, go, go!"
Logano is Nicholas' idol. After a blog post from Nicholas' dad Bill Stratton reached the people at the Joey Logano Foundation, the foundation decided to help the Strattons. And through a renovation show on NBC called "George to the Rescue," the ground floor of the Strattons' modest Cape in Manchester was renovated to allow the family to keep a closer eye on Nicholas, who could have a seizure at any time.
The renovation was taped for an episode of "George to the Rescue," which will air Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC. A group of the Strattons' family members and friends, including members of the renovation team, Nicholas and his older brother Nathan, got a chance to see a preview of the show Thursday night.
"I put a blog on Instagram and CCMC [Connecticut Children's Medical Center] contacted me to see if we would be willing to share it [on their website]," Bill said. "Then [director] Lisa [Bozzuto] contacted us from the Joey Logano Foundation with this opportunity … 'Do you mind if we share your information, there's a possibility of this show called 'George to the Rescue' and it was a renovation show.' One of the producers called. That's where it all started.
"It was a summary of his health issues but I hashtagged a lot of things he likes; he's into racing and NASCAR. That hashtag was how she found us. The whole thing basically comes down to hashtags and her persistence in finding us."
Nicholas spent the first 10 days of his life in the neo-natal ICU because of breathing issues, his mother Kristy said. He started having seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy, specifically infant spasms, a rare seizure disorder, when he was 6 months old.
"He had upwards of 40-50 plus seizures a day," Bill said. "We lost track. For like two years straight. He's outgrown those. But they said he would develop other ones, which he has."
His last was in November last year, a week before Thanksgiving.
"He had a big one in his room," Kristy said. "Typically when his immune system is down is when they appear. I sleep in the room with him. It happened and the emergency med at home wasn't working. When they went into the ER, nothing was working, so they went to a higher dosage and it stopped but his breathing went down. They had to entubate him. To see a child with that is not what you want to see."
Their house, built in the 1940s, was basically a series of compartments; Kristy had to go into another room to see what Nicholas was doing and if he was OK.
"They asked us what we needed and we said accessibility is an issue," Bill said. "They just cleared out the first floor and opened it up and made it huge. We can keep an eye on him for seizures. We have to keep an eye on him all the time.
"It happens without warning. When he's sick, we keep a closer eye on him but there's only so much you can do. A lot of them happen at night. His don't always stop on their own."
Nicholas bounced around Thursday night, overexcited. While his parents talked, his brother Nathan, who is 14, kept an eye on him.
"He's very good when things happen," Bill said. "He has a very cool head and he helps us a lot."
When the renovation was finished and the family walked back into their house, they were amazed. Host George Oliphant, whose show renovates houses for people in need, said he had one more surprise.
That's when Joey Logano walked down the stairs and invited Nicholas to go for a ride in his car.
"They put him in the car," Bill said. "He gets excited easy but he was overloaded that day. Then they sent us to New Hampshire Motor Speedway that weekend. They gave us a whole experience at the track and it was awesome."
"We met him one on one," Kristy said. "The experience was just amazing. Just to see Nicholas' face, his excitement, was priceless."
Bill came away from the experience thankful.
"He's definitely been through a lot in eight years," he said. "It's not been easy. You get kind of caught up in a lot of the negative stuff that's out there and a lot of times you forget that positive stuff is out there. It gives you a little different focus on life, that there are people out there who help and care."