Michael Schenk's parents have been on a roller coaster of emotions since he was born eight days ago.
The baby boy came three months early and weighed a mere 2 pounds.
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But Amanda Hamilton-Schenk's spirits were lifted Monday when she saw her son resting in his neonatal intensive care unit incubator with a small green cape wrapped around his shoulders.
"He's pretty little, but he's mighty," the Geneva mother said, adding that the cape decorated with a yellow star "suits him very well," along with the tiny socks on his feet that were adorned with lighting bolts.
Organizers for a National Superhero Day event held Monday at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield say everyone in the pediatric unit is a superhero -- from premature babies like Michael to teenagers fighting cancer to all the doctors and nurses.
"It's just a great way to honor our patients and our staff," said Holly Kulikowski, director of special events for the Cadence Health Foundation. "They're all heroes in their own way."
Activities for the day included cape making and mask decorating for more than 200 patients, a staff costume contest and a visit from a therapy dog dressed as a superhero, Kulikowski said.
Dr. Jeffery Loughead, neonatologist site leader of the pediatric program at Lurie Children's Hospital at Cadence Health, sported a Superman shirt under his blue coat.
Many of his colleagues, including staff members in other departments, dressed up as other superheroes, such as Batman and Wonder Woman.
"For me personally, one of the reasons I love pediatrics is they don't act sick," Loughead said. "Even when they're facing serious, sometimes even life-threatening, illnesses they still are kids. They have fun, they want to have fun."
"This is a way of acknowledging not only their childness, but also the fact that it's kind of whimsical and fun and it gives them something kind of different to do," he added.
A highlight occurred when a few former and current patients were led into an empty room where they got a surprise visit from their favorite comic superheroes.
The group included 4-year-old Daniela Urueta, who waited quietly by the window. She was dressed in a blue hospital gown, a red cape and a glittery headband while the tube of an IV bag trailed behind her.
Four other children kneeling on the couch next to Daniela excitedly pointed at a rope outside.
"They're coming, they're coming," one said in a sweet little voice as the rope began to shake.
Parents snapped photos and the kids cheered and waved as Spider-Man, Superman and Captain America appeared before them.
The men dressed up in the costumes were window washers for the West Chicago-based company T.J. Maintenance Inc. They held their hands against the glass and the children gave them high-fives.
Everyone in the room smiled, including Daniela, who was set to go home a few hours later.
"It's perfect timing, just before we leave," said her mother, Adelina Granda of Aurora, adding that Daniela was recovering from the removal of her appendix a week earlier.
In the NICU, 6-week-old Liam Zilch fussed a little as his mother lifted him out of his bed to show off his bright blue cape with a red shield, lightning bolt and stars on the back.
"I think it's super cute that they do these fun things for the babies and the parents," said his mother, Jaime Zilch of Wheaton.
She added that the support system and care for Liam has been "absolutely amazing" and said he is now doing well and on track to go home soon for the first time.
Hamilton-Schenk also said she is grateful for the support she has received from all the medical staff at Cadence during the trying time.
She said she is looking forward to the day her son can run around in their backyard with a cape.
"The superhero event, I think, is absolutely adorable, and it's a little bit of fun in an otherwise very stressful time," she said as she broke into tears. "It's a little bit of cheer when you need it."