Healthy Choices

‘Superheroes’ visit kids at UC Davis cancer center

Juan Delgadillo, a shy patient at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center’s pediatric clinic, grinned gleefully as Thor handed him a hammer and pinned a handmade medallion to his shirt, thanking him for his bravery on Monday.

West Coast Avengers, a group of volunteers costumed as superheroes, helped children with cancer create colorful medals to lift the patients’ spirits. The superheroes pinned the medals to the kids’ clothes to congratulate them for being the real heroes. The event was staged in collaboration with the nonprofit Relay For Life of Davis, a component of the American Cancer Society.

Juan, 11, who has a brain tumor, has been a patient of the cancer center for eight years, said his mother, Maria Herrera, 33, of Sacramento. Doing crafts and attending events like this have given him and his family fond memories.

“These are the best memories he has,” she said.

Jeff Rodgers, 35, of Citrus Heights played the role of Thor, the most popular hero among the children Monday.

“Any chance you get to make a kid’s day easier, especially when they’ve already had a tough enough time, I’m all in it,” Rodgers said.

The craft and costume party was planned by Gina von Damm Bogart, 44, of Davis, event chair for Relay For Life of Davis’ planning committee.

She said she decided to contact the West Coast Avengers because she thought superheroes would be the best presenters to award the children with bravery medals.

Von Damm Bogart said she saw positive results from previous arts and crafts events and knew that Relay For Life needed to keep them coming.

“Spreading hope is something that sort of sustains you during these ordeals in your life,” she said. “I myself am a cancer survivor, and for me I learned that maintaining a positive attitude and maintaining my positive spirit was half the battle.”

Special events that include costumed characters make children feel special that someone went out of their way for them, said Tina Schmidt, 49, of Sacramento, a registered nurse at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“It reminds the kids, and the families, that they are still kids,” Schmidt said. “I think it makes them feel good.”

The West Coast Avengers is a regional component of the Avengers Initiative, a national all-volunteer costuming group that does free promotional events and visits children in hospitals, said Bill Romanelli, 44, of Folsom, an Avengers member who dresses as Hawkeye. There are 20 Avengers members in Sacramento.

Romanelli asked seven superheroes to visit the UC Davis cancer patients Monday because it is a cause near to his heart, he said. He was a volunteer for the Mercy Life program several years ago, and he is a father.

“I have a real good connection with what everyone is going through and whatever little spark of happiness like that is worth its weight in gold,” Romanelli said. “Just being able to provide that moment for someone – for the kids themselves and their parents, for someone who probably hasn’t smiled in a while – it’s a big deal.”