On Superhero Day at Winfield hospital, sick kids are the 'true heroes'

Ty Hawkinson is receiving one of his last chemo treatments for an incredibly rare cancerous tumor in his rib cage.

He's almost a teenager, so when Batman visits his hospital room Thursday, the Caped Crusader awkwardly asks if he wants some toys and comic books.

Ty gladly accepts because he's the kind of kid who doesn't dwell on his illness. Instead, the 12-year-old from South Elgin shows Batman his Lego display.

"He's my superhero," his mom, Kelly Hawkinson, says.

And that's why she hardly notices the swoon-worthy Batman, who's wearing a bulky suit and not some knockoff as he and other costumed characters visit pediatric patients at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield on National Superhero Day.

"It's a reminder that deep down inside we are all kids," says Dora Castro-Ahillen, the hospital's child life coordinator. "And in here, for patients battling all sorts of medical crises, it truly brings that perspective of who are the true heroes."

The hospital's version of Superhero Day recognizes the "superpowers" of sick kids and the doctors and nurses who care for them. It's also an occasion to step out of the hospital gowns and scrubs and into capes and masks.

The man behind the Batman mask, Tim Brigham of Arlington Heights, has one mission: to help patients "be a kid again." Among them are Jane O'Reilly, a 4-year-old from Glen Ellyn with leukemia, and Sammy Braet, a 3-year-old from Aurora who had her tonsils removed Wednesday.

But Brigham doesn't talk about why they're in the hospital. He hands dolls to the girls and asks the boys if they want to be his sidekick, Robin.

"You just want someone to bring you back to normal," he says.

Much like the Dark Knight, Brigham is a Type-A personality who started the Superhero Collective, a nonprofit that holds toy drives and has characters deliver the donations to hospitalized children.

He wanted to give kids that normalcy after his son passed out at Target in 2014 and needed treatment for a respiratory problem at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights.

Donning his black cape also is therapeutic. His wife has lost two late-term pregnancies.

"Between my child getting sick and the things we've gone through personally in the hospital, it's the only way I know how to deal with grief," he says.

Ty, meanwhile, has been fighting Ewing's sarcoma for almost a year. He spent Christmas in the hospital and asked his mom if he could sing carols to the younger patients. He should be done with his treatments in mid-May, when she hopes he'll be in remission.

"He always has such a positive energy with everything," his mom says.

On Thursday, Ty receives a Lego set from Brigham and some paperbacks from Comic Books For Kids. DuPage County Sheriff's Cpl. Ed Castillo makes him and other patients honorary deputies.

But what's his favorite gift on Superhero Day?

"Oh, the cape," Ty says. "I like the cape."

  A shy Jane O'Reilly high-fives Elsa and Anna, the characters from the Disney movie "Frozen," at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield. Jane has been battling leukemia. Mark Black/
  Elsa and Anna from "Frozen" give Sammy Braet, 3, of Aurora, a Barbie doll shortly before she was due to be discharged from Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield. Mark Black/
  Eli Shambling, of Plainfield, gives Spider-Man a high-five as Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital celebrates Superhero Day. Mark Black/
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