FORT LAUDERDALE — When Jaylen Hyde woke up on Friday – his 9th birthday – and turned on the TV, his jaw dropped. A phony breaking news segment – recorded just for him by the local NBC station – called on Jaylen to become superhero “Striker Boy” and save South Florida from the villain Sneaky Pete. It was all part of a surprise staged event to fulfill a superhero dream for Jalen, who is undergoing chemotherapy to fight leukemia.
“He was very excited. Totally geeked,” said his mother, Dalia Rodriguez, who had managed to keep all the preparations secret.
Dressed in a gray costume and blue mask based on a superhero he had created, Jaylen was cheered by dozens of volunteers as he arrived at Nova Southeastern University’s soccer practice field in a yellow Ferrari Italia. He defused a fake bomb, got a helicopter ride, fought a fire, and arrested the green-faced Sneaky Pete for stealing a puppy. Jaylen then took the villain to jail and held a news conference.
The event was similar to one held in San Francisco last year for a 5-year-old cancer patient who wanted to be “Batkid” for the day, drawing worldwide attention.
Jaylen, who was diagnosed in January 2013 and is now in remission, was guided through the scenarios by a professional actress in the role of policewoman “Shadow” and accompanied by his 13-year-old brother, Daishawn, as sidekick “Falcon Boy.”
Smiling with tight lips, Jaylen seemed a bit overwhelmed by the news cameras and all the outpouring. “Striker Boy, Striker Boy,” volunteers chanted.
When asked by reporters about his day, Striker Boy proved to be the strong and silent type, saying only “I can see through the future and I can fly.”
The Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of seriously ill children, started preparing the event more than a year ago at its South Florida chapter.
Jared Fink, who works with the foundation, interviewed Jaylen and noticed from the start that he was a huge superhero fan. “Whatever superhero movie is out there, he sees them all,” Fink said.
Organizers decided to let Jaylen’s imagination run, letting him create his own superhero instead of adapting an existing one.
Norman Wedderburn, president and CEO of the regional chapter, said the average wish costs $5,000, but the Friday wish was well in excess of that. He said he wasn’t able to provide a figure because many donations had been in kind.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about granting them one heartfelt wish that they ask for. Whether it’s a superhero wish or going to Disney World, we are going to give them all the effort that we have,” Wedderburn said.
The Make-A-Wish chapter in South Florida has been granting wishes to more than 9,500 local children with life-threatening illnesses since 1983. A visit to Disney World is the most popular request, followed by travel, shopping sprees and meeting a celebrity.
After answering questions at the mock news conference, Jaylen celebrated his birthday with a party at the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Fighting back tears, his mother thanked organizers and participants for helping her son.
“Just like he beat the bad guy today, he’s going to beat the bad guy of cancer,” she said. “He’s going to get through this and we’re going to be OK.”