When entering the Forever Young Zone – originally donated by 49ers alumnus Steve Young's Forever Young Foundation – at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital (LPCH), you quickly notice posters of thriving trees and flowers with "forever young" written across the tops. And just above them a sign reads, "Be your own hero," to serve as a constant reminder to the children of LPCH to continue their valiant fight against the toughest of adversaries.
On this day, however, members of the San Francisco 49ers, clad in red and gold capes, entered into the Forever Young Zone to a room filled with cheers and smiles to remind the children that their fight was not theirs alone.
Tight end Garrett Celek, who, at 6-foot-4 with long, blonde hair, bears a strong resemblance to the Marvel hero Thor, carried a replica of the superhero's hammer. A towering Kassim Osgood flashed an infectious smile as he signed the back of a 49ers jersey for a young boy.
For a few hours, players from the San Francisco 49ers including Michael Wilhoite, Fouimalo Fonoti, Mike Purcell, John Fullington, Dan Skuta and Garrett Celek worked with children battling life-threatening illnesses to pick out designs, initials and colors to be sewn onto superhero capes – some with Batman patterns or neon green butterflies. Players also visited the children who were unable to leave their rooms, filling the halls with laughter in an otherwise difficult environment. Players and youth exchanged smiles and stories as part of an initiative between the 49ers Foundation and Capes4Heroes to provide children from oncology, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), dialysis, short-stay units, cardiology and outpatients from the LPCH school the morale boost needed to endure the taxing times of treatment.
"We were ecstatic to have the 49ers join us for this event," said Nicholas Gliatas, Child Life Specialist at LPCH. "It's a really big deal for our patients, especially those kids that have been here for quite a while. Days become very static and routine, so having something special like that, [to] meet their idols—it's a real pick-me-up."
Capes4Heroes was founded by Barbara Casados who, like many parents with children facing adversity or illnesses, wanted to provide her second son, Maddox, with the strength and fortitude needed as he worked through challenges related to his autism diagnosis. At the age of 2, Maddox refused to wear anything but a superhero cape. Rather than struggle to dress him each day, Barbara made a pact with her son – if he would agree to let her dress him, Maddox would be able to wear his superhero cape for the day. Soon after, Maddox began wearing the cape to school and other parents started noticing the impact it had on him. Through watching Maddox's transformation, Capes4Heroes was born.
"To see the smiles on the kids' faces … There was one boy when he walked in he was giddy to see the players," said Casados. "I don't have words to explain it. Watching the kids and the players interact and hearing the players tell the kids that they are their heroes, it was pretty amazing! You make the assumption that these big, courageous guys are tough and then you see the softness as they meet the kids. Through their interactions, they are turning it around and giving so much love and inspiration to the kids.."
Throughout the day, players visited children's rooms at the hospital, including those currently residing in the Bass Childhood Cancer Center and Pediatric Emergency Department. They met kids like Cameron, a 13-year-old who, like Kassim Osgood, plays wide receiver, and Kyle, a 7-year-old who, after having a bone-marrow transplant on Wednesday, had a "Farewell Candlestick" flag draped over his bed as the players came by for visits.
"We came as superheroes nominating some honorary superhero kids and rewarding them for their remarkable prowess and steadfastness with getting better, getting healed," said Osgood.
"I love getting involved in the community. It's something that we take pride in with the 49ers organization. Giving back to the community, it feels good intrinsically, but also it's good to see people smile and heartwarming to see people out there enjoying life despite the challenges they are facing."
After the many in-room cape deliveries, various craft activities and time spent with the children creating the capes, the players had an opportunity to reflect on the impact each child had on themselves.
"It was hard to see," said Garrett Celek, 49ers tight end. "It made me realize how fortunate I am and how fortunate a lot of us are and how lucky we are to have the lives that we do. It makes me appreciate things a lot more. It is a blessing to be able to give back and share a smile with the kids and their families." And, along the way, the 49ers found some new superheroes to recruit to their team.