Superhero for a day
Inside the Ronald McDonald House, children zipped through the hallways Saturday wearing paper masks and capes on their backs, stretching their arms out in elation.
These children are going through transplants or cancer treatments. Some are waiting on their diagnoses and going to appointments every day at Duke. At such a young age, they know what it’s like to go through pain and the fear of the unknown.
But on this evening, they’re superheroes, confident and strong.
The Ronald McDonald House, a place for critically ill children and their families to stay while they’re seeking medical treatment, received a visit from Capes4Heroes.
Barbara Casados, the founder of Capes4Heroes, pieced together the first superhero cape four years ago for her autistic son, Maddox, who refused to wear anything but a cape. Soon afterward she taught herself how to sew, and more than 1,500 capes later, she has delivered her creations all over the U.S., to Ronald McDonald Houses and hospitals.
This is her second trip to Durham, and she flew from California for the visit.
“It gives them and the families a few hours not to think about their illness,” Casados said. “It gives them a chance to be a kid.”
Casados added that it’s the difference from the little patients waking up, irritated and crying from the pain, to seeing them run around like a flying superhero.
“It helps them reach down and find that courage and find that strength that they have inside and that keeps them fighting,” she said.
The little patients also got to see UNC-Chapel Hill studio art sophomore Indi Cowie, a famous soccer freestyler, spin a soccer ball with her feet and lace it through her legs while on the floor. Students from the Ballet School of Chapel Hill danced across the dining hall in pastel tutus and tights.
Superhero decorations were taped to the walls, with “Bam!”, “Krunch!” and “Smash!” in bold letters. Jellybeans and chocolate bars were for the taking.
“Swishhhhh!” said Joeson Bramlett, 8, as he ran around like he was flying.
Joeson is waiting for a bone marrow transplant at Duke Hospital, which could prolong his life that’s been projected to end around 15 years old. He has metachromatic leukodystrophy, which is degeneration in the white matter of the brain and central nervous system.
His mother, Tammy Hicks, said they first noticed his developmental delays. At 8 years old, he is still the same size as his 5-year-old sister. Then he started having tremors.
The diagnosis took them five years to find. Possible cures or treatments are still in testing, and the family from Georgia is looking at spending a full year in Durham.
Her son and daughter zipped through the long corridors, yelling “Superman!” and making more flying noises.
“It takes a lot not to cry, in all honesty,” Tammy said, “‘cause it’s really nice to know you can have a party for them because they’re away from home. It helps get your mind away from everything that you’re facing.”
Across the room, Iron Man, Batman and Superman also entertained the crowd as youngsters climbed into their laps or asked for autographs.
“Put your mask on,” Batman said in a gruff voice to 4-year-old Caeleb Odom.
Smiling, Caeleb slid on his red mask, made a few noises and then did something none of Batman’s rivals have probably ever done before – He tickled Batman.
“Tickle!” Caeleb shrieked, wiggling his fingers.
His mother, Brandi, said her children have been waiting a week for the superhero party. Caeleb owns his own set of Batman pajamas and a Spider-Man costume with muscles. That evening, he was even wearing fluffy slippers with Spider-Man’s head on them.
They like to play dress-up. So much, in fact, that Brandi and her husband received capes, too. They’ve been at the Ronald McDonald House since April, going to cardiology and neurology appointments every day as they try to figure out what’s wrong with their son.
He started having seizures after he turned 4.
“It means everything, because if it wasn’t for this, we’d be up here out of our car taking care of our son,” Brandi said about staying at the house.
Caeleb sat still only for a moment, as he shoveled macaroni and cheese into his mouth. Then it was time to don the cape, a red one with a yellow lightning bolt, and run around the room.
“He’s our superhero boy,” Brandi said. “So this is like a big deal for him.”