Superhero Day at Central DuPage Hospital recognizes bravery in young patients

A superhero action scene has drawn Jahrel Banks and his dad out of his hospital room for a brief distraction.

His nurses will whisk him away after about 15 minutes, but before it's over, the spectacle - Spider-Man, Superman and Captain America rappelling from the roof of a Winfield hospital four stories to the ground Monday - is a thrilling break from the routine for the 14-year-old from Naperville.

"I've never seen anything like it before, and I've been in the hospital many, many times," Jahrel says.

The teen was born with sickle cell disease, a chronic blood disorder that causes bouts, or crises, of debilitating pain that can last for hours or weeks. Sickle cell patients also are at risk for infections, stroke and other serious complications.

But Jahrel tries not to focus on those symptoms or their unpredictability. His dad says his son has missed out on family gatherings, his friends' birthdays and his own.

But ask Jahrel about how he deals with the frustrations, and he instead expresses gratitude for a trip to Walt Disney World through the Make a Wish Foundation.

"I kind of just ignore it pretty much most of the time, but if I can't, like, some kids don't get the experiences I got to see," the Jefferson Junior High student says.

It's that kind of perspective and attitude that Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield celebrates through its version of National Superhero Day.

On this occasion, doctors and nurses hold superhero costume contests and recognize the patients who display "superpowers" even though they're living with something far scarier than a supervillain.

"They are so brave and courageous to face these medical experiences head-on and doing so with such strength and stamina and positivity," says Allie Jones, a child life specialist at the hospital.

"They are the true heroes throughout this whole experience."

Three window washers from West Chicago-based TJ Maintenance Inc. only play the role of heroes, scaling the hospital's exterior wall to the delight of the hospital's youngest patients.

"They have to draw straws almost to see who does this they enjoy it so much," owner Tom Morrow says of his employees who want to transform into caped crusaders.

The crowd-pleasing performance earned the approval of Teagan Kunkel, who waved to the trio from the lobby of the hospital's Women's and Children's Pavilion. But the 8-year-old really is inspired by her favorite action hero: Supergirl.

"She climbs like everything, and she never gives up," says the Wheaton girl, who was admitted to the hospital Sunday after suffering a severe asthma attack.

When another onlooker, Veldee Banks Sr., talks about the "fastest, mightiest" guy in the room, he's not referring to any of the men defying gravity with only some rope and harnesses. He's describing his son, Jahrel, who's using a wheelchair on this afternoon.

"Sometimes he's the fastest, mightiest, smartest kid you'll see, and then sometimes you see him in this state, and he still handles it with a lot of class," Veldee Banks says.

His son has had to grow up with a disorder that's left him with joint pain, fatigue and, sometimes, jaundice. He's had acute chest syndrome twice and his gall bladder removed.

"A lot of times he'll walk into a place fine and need to be carried out because his symptoms are unpredictable. In a sense, it's kind of hard to plan things, and it also takes a toll," Veldee Banks says.

But Jahrel is still a "trouper," his dad says.

"He has his challenges, because he's a small 14-year-old, but he takes those challenges - you could never tell," he said. "In his mind, he's probably 6 feet tall."

  For the past five years, window washers from TJ Maintenance, Inc., have dressed as superheroes like Superman, left, and Spider-Man to rappel down the exterior of Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital to the delight of pediatric patients. Daniel White/
  Wheaton parents Megan and Jeremy Kunkel and their 8-year-old daughter, Teagan, watch window washers dressed as Spider-Man, Superman and Captain America scale the exterior of the Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital Women's and Children's pavilion Monday. Daniel White/
Daniel White/dwhite@dailyherald.comWindow washers dressed as Spider-Man and Superman draw a crowd of onlookers at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. Tom Morrow of West Chicago owns TJ Maintenance, Inc., a company that is contracted to clean the hospital's windows.
  Batman and Wonder Woman pose for a photo with Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital staff and others as they celebrate National Superhero Day. Daniel White/
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