PARKERSBURG - When Nathan Habeb is granted a wish, he does it up right.
Having to live with a terminal metabolic disorder since birth, the second grader from Emerson Elementary School will serve as an honorary captain for the Parkersburg High School football team for tonight's game with South Charleston at Stadium Field.
In addition to leading the Big Reds out of the tunnel through the inflatable helmet before the opening kickoff, Habeb has requested to call the coin flip at midfield, then keep the coin. Since the coin flip is usually reserved for the visiting team, PHS coach Don Reeves still is trying to iron out those arrangements.
"Nathaniel says he is going to walk with (PHS senior running back) Adam Lindamood out of the tunnel - that is what he telling people," his mother Kendra Habeb said. "With the coin toss, he asked me what he should pick and I told him that when it is flipped, whatever pops into his mind to take that one."
Nearly nine years have passed since Nathan was born and diagnosed with Glutaric Acidemia Type II disorder, which is characterized by defects in the ability of the body to use proteins and fats for energy. In one piece of literature, coach Reeves read where only 10 children in the United States have been diagnosed with the disorder, and no one has ever lived past the age of 13.
"We've seen specialists in Columbus - they have done tests since he was less than 24 hours old when he started having problems," Kendra said. "Since that point, we have learned that (Glutaric Acidemia Type II) was the incorrect diagnosis. His condition is so rare that the only one they have to go by is to study Nathaniel.
"They originally told us he wouldn't live past the age of 6 and now he is almost 9."
To say that Nathan has survived life's greatest challenges would be an understatement. Without glasses, he is legally blind. He has an enlarged heart and his kidneys do not function properly. His liver also is enlarged and he is hooked onto a feeding machine 19 hours a day.
In addition to the numerous surgeries, Nathan has been in a drug-induced coma and been declared clinically dead seven times. In 2008, he suffered a massive heart attack.
His mother recalls two times when she and her husband, Sam, had to provide CPR to Nathan on the coffee table in the family's living room until paramedics arrived.
"Because his condition is so rare, doctors don't know how to treat it," Kendra said. "Each day, you just don't know. He can be walking around and talking one day, then tomorrow it may be a metabolic crisis and he may be on life support.
"It can happen so quickly."
Each day is a blessing, especially when Kendra notices her son smiling from ear to ear every morning when the alarm goes off at 6:30 and it's time to get ready for school. Nathan doesn't let the disorder control his life.
"Nathaniel knows he is sick and he is dealing with it so well," she said. "He tells me things. When he was 4 years old, he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to cry because when he dies, he would be with Jesus.
"For the whole family, he teaches us to appreciate what we have and live in the moment, and enjoy while we are doing it."
Through his wife, Carole (who is a speech therapist at Emerson Elementary), coach Reeves first met Nathan a year ago. This year, Nathan's second-grade teacher just happens to be Denise Lindamood, who is Adam's stepmother.
"We try to give things to the community and we always promise maybe somebody at each school a reward at the end of the year - and Nathan is the one we picked this year," coach Reeves said. "He knows he won't ever be able to play football, but this for him is his game that he will get to play."
Tonight's experience is Nathan's moment in the sun, so he is taking full advantage.
During the past few days since he announced to the PHS Booster Club about Nathan's intentions, coach Reeves also fulfilled several other wishes from the 8-year-old - such as providing tickets and Big Red sweatshirts to members of the Habeb family. That included his 6-year-old brother, Shine, and 9-year-old sister, Abigail.
"Nathan also said he wanted a football," coach Reeves continued. "He didn't say autographed. To him, he wanted it signed because of each person on the team, it is their signature. That means something to him, so we are giving him a signed game ball and a Big Red football jersey."