Laurie Strongin is executive director of the Hope for Henry Foundation. Allen Goldberg is co-founder of the foundation.
Why should Batman play in Peoria but not in Chicago and St. Louis?
The Batman in question is Lenny B. Robinson, known as the Route 29 Batman — a Maryland businessman who has committed himself to brightening the days of children hospitalized across the country. Last week, in a misguided overreaction, hospitals in the Midwest, including the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago and St. Louis Children’s Hospital, canceled appearances by this Batman, fearing that he would traumatize young patients and their families.
Lenny had been returning to his Owings Mills home from Canada, where he had picked up a new customized Batmobile, and was visiting children’s hospitals along the way when the Aurora, Colo., shooting occurred.
Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria and other facilities welcomed Lenny and his Batmobile as scheduled, but others balked, worried about how a visit from Batman might affect the kids they treat.
The adults were wrong, and these kids, already suffering, were unfairly penalized.
For years, our organization, Hope for Henry, has worked with Lenny to coordinate visits with children fighting life-threatening illnesses in hospitals around Washington and Baltimore. The smiles that Lenny produces and the sheer joy his visits create should not and cannot be canceled out by the actions of a crazed gunman.
Lenny has done this for more than a decade, but his story became nationally known only this spring, when Montgomery County police pulled him over because his Batmobile lacked a license plate. What was little reported, though, was where he had been headed that day: to a Hope for Henry superhero celebration at Georgetown Hospital. As the hour for Batman’s arrival passed, the patients of the pediatric hematology and oncology clinic grew concerned that their hero might be a no-show. When he arrived at last, the kids lit up immediately as Batman swept into the room in his cape and cowl.
In Peoria, police didn’t stop Lenny; instead, they provided a full escort, complete with lights and sirens. Again, Batman’s rock-star wattage brightened the lives of little children facing big challenges.
From the parents of these patients to the doctors who treat them, all confirm that visits from a superhero — whether the comic-book kind or real-life athletes or actors, such as “Dark Knight” star Christian Bale, who visited hospitalized victims in Aurora — are welcome. Indeed, they are indispensable to help break up the pain and monotony of hospital stays.
We know this personally. Our son Henry, the inspiration for our nonprofit foundation, was hospitalized for months over his short life of seven years. He wore a Batman costume from his earliest days until his death.
To Henry, Batman symbolized the supremacy of good and the power of hope. Evil, like what we have seen perpetrated in Colorado, did not stand a chance against Batman. Well-meaning but mistaken adults and experts have replaced hope with fear by determining that Batman is inappropriate.
A hospital spokesperson in Chicago told the Chicago Sun-Times that officials had consulted psychologists before canceling Batman’s appearance. Maybe they should have spoken to the kids.