A Reddit photo of a man running on a treadmill next to a boy standing with the help of a brace has gone viral.
“He used to be in a coma, I used to be a fat guy,” the photo caption reads. “My son is recovering from a brain injury. We have a deal now. If he’s standing, I’m running.”
The photo, which has received nearly 2.7 million views, features Rick Delashmit and his 12-year-old son, Reece, who can now stand for 90 minutes at a time.
Reece suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident when he was four and spent the next four months in the hospital in a coma and on life support.
“We’ve spent every day since May 31, 2008, focused solely on securing for him the fullest recovery we can, in whatever shape that takes. We’re just on a journey to get there,” Delashmit told TODAY.com.
Delashmit has lost 70 pounds due to his deal with Reece, which he struck two years ago after realizing he had reached an unhealthy weight.
“Finally, I said, I’ve got to change this. Here I am and I’ve got the most inspirational, toughest kid in the world right under my roof, and I’m now taking that example and doing it myself,” Delashmit said. “So we made a pact, where if he’s working, I’m working.”
While Delashmit runs on a treadmill in his basement, Reece stands in a special contraption nearby.
“He gets a big kick out of it, because I act like I’m dying and about to fall off the treadmill and he loves that immensely,” says Delashmit. “So it’s worked for us. I’m down nearly 70 pounds. And he’s more inspired than ever to do the work. It’s transformed both of our lives.”
Delashmit isn’t the first person to take a team approach to helping a loved one fight a serious illness. NFL player Devon Still has publicly documented his upbeat attitude toward his daughter Leah’s battle with cancer, including an adorable video of the two of them getting pepped up before she underwent surgery.
There are also stories of people shaving their heads in a show of solidarity with a friend who is battling cancer or teammates wearing armbands for a person who is battling a serious illness.
Does that actually help with a person’s recovery?
Absolutely, psychotherapist Barton Goldsmith, PhD, tells Yahoo Health.
Having a serious illness is isolating, he says, and people are often tempted to withdraw when they have a health battle. But when they have obvious support from loved ones, it helps them stay positive and work hard to recover.
“The real truth is we don’t know why that support helps — but we know that it does,” he says. “It makes a difference in how a sick person perceives life and wanting to fight to get better.”
It also adds accountability to treatment and working toward health goals, Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine tells Yahoo Health. When a sick person is aware that others are committed to their recovery — and are watching to make sure they stay focused on their health — it can help them keep working hard to get better.
Adding in a specific, measurable challenge, like Delashmit’s weight loss, can also serve as extra inspiration for a person fighting a health battle and help them feel connected to others who are also struggling with a goal, says Rego.
But, while challenges can help, positivity is the most important way to boost a loved one battling a serious illness, experts say. “You all know what’s going on and it doesn’t necessarily have to be talked about,” says Goldsmith. “Asking ‘How can I help?’, being positive, and helping a loved one see themselves after the illness goes a really long way.”
Delashmit says he hopes that one day Reece will be able to walk to school with his friends. In that case, he has a lot of running ahead of him.
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