David Gerfast and his family are fighting cancer with an old-fashioned ship captain's bell and high-tech proton beam radiation.
The mayor of San Francisco, the police chief and a cast of thousands of volunteers are transforming their city into Gotham City for a day to help fulfill a little boy’s wish.
Five-year-old Miles is fighting leukemia, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation in the Greater Bay Area will grant his wish to be “Batkid” on Nov. 15.
Patricia Wilson, executive director of Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area, joins Here & Now’s Robin Young.
On Miles’ wish to be Batman
“It’s a rare public wish. Most of our wishes are very private and intimate, and this one is one in which we needed people to assist, and people are rising. And there really isn’t a better city for this. I don’t think that this kind of response would happen in any other major market. San Francisco is known for heart and soul and people coming out, and my goodness, this is demonstrating that.”
On the types of wishes that Make-A-Wish grants
“There’s five wish types: I wish to be. I wish to go, obviously, to Disney or to see their family. I wish to meet a celebrity. I wish to have — often a laptop computer or a backyard play set, because our kids have compromised immune systems so they can’t play at the park, so something in their own backyard is special. And the last wish is I wish to help — children who use their wish to make the world a better place.”
On Miles being a real superhero
“We’re going to present some opportunities for him to be a real superhero. And you know the real story here though — I think any child battling cancer really is a superhero, and this is just so sweet that we get to do something amazing and get people excited about our little superhero.”
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BATMAN THEME")
RON HICKLIN SINGERS: (Singing) Batman. Batman.
YOUNG: After rescuing a damsel in distress from the cable car tracks in San Francisco's Nob Hill, then capturing the Riddler in the act of robbing a downtown vault, he will get a call on his Batphone and go to the window where he will look down and see a huge group of people jumping up and down and calling for Batman to help. And he will be Batman - or Batboy.
He is five-year-old Miles. He's fighting leukemia. And on Friday, November 15, the San Francisco Make-A-Wish Foundation will grant Miles his wish, helping him live out his fantasy of being Batkid. They're going to transform San Francisco into Gotham City for a day. They've got a Batmobile to transport Batkid from crisis to scripted and acted-out crisis. They've got the Penguin, the Riddler. And they've had thousands of people respond to their call for help, many calling with a lump in their throat.
Patricia Wilson is executive director of the San Francisco chapter of Make-A-Wish Foundation. She joins us on the line. And so, Patricia, you asked volunteers to help Miles' wish come true. Give us an idea of what the response has been like.
PATRICIA WILSON: My phone is going to explode?
WILSON: You know, it was just unbelievable, the response that we're getting. And it warms my heart how compassionate people are, and the calls coming from all over. The story is big in Norway right now, apparently.
WILSON: And we have people flying in for this to experience this. So it is a rare...
YOUNG: You are - wait, wait, wait. People are flying into San Francisco?
WILSON: Yes. People are taking their kids out of the schools so they'd experience it. I have people who are flying in, yes.
YOUNG: Oh, my gosh. Well, what are some other things that people are volunteering to do?
WILSON: We've had everything from a grilled cheese sandwich for Miles.
WILSON: Someone brought - made custom shoes. Now he has Batkid shoes. This has just really struck a nerve, I think, and it's a rare public wish. Most of our wishes are very private and intimate. And this one is one in which we needed people to assist and people are rising. And there really isn't a better city for this. I don't think that this kind of response would happen in any other major market. San Francisco is known for heart and soul and people coming out. And my goodness, this is demonstrating that.
YOUNG: They certainly are. And you - well, you mentioned most wishes are private. Let's explain what the Make-A-Wish Foundation is for some people who might not know. It's children who have - are wrestling with terrible illnesses and situations who literally ask you to fulfill a wish. What are some of the wishes that are usually fulfilled?
WILSON: There's five wish types: I wish to be, I wish to go - obviously to Disney or to see their family - I wish to meet a celebrity, I wish to have, often a laptop computer or a backyard play set because our kids have compromised immune system so they can't play at the park, so something in their own backyard is special. And the last wish is I wish to help, children who use their wish to make the world a better place.
YOUNG: Oh, boy. Well - and here - we don't know Miles' last name but he's five, and we see this little picture of him in this little Bat outfit, like a Halloween costume. What was his wish?
WILSON: His wish is to be Batman. And when I worked with a family back in the spring - we've been working on this for a while - one of the options was turning San Francisco into Gotham City. And that's the one that resonated, so off we went.
YOUNG: Sure. Why not? Well, as it turned...
WILSON: Why not?
YOUNG: Yeah. The police chief and the mayor are going to greet Miles at the end of his day and present him with the key to the city for having saved it.
WILSON: Well, the police chief is doing more than that.
WILSON: I mean, he's actually doing the breaking news story early in the day, asking if anyone knows the whereabouts of Batman because he needs help fighting crime in the city of San Francisco.
WILSON: And he's going to be the one, all day long, giving Miles instruction where he's going.
YOUNG: Ah. Well, I understand, at one point, there's going to be like a fake accident in the corner so he can rescue people?
WILSON: I can't tell all the secrets. But, yes, we've got it all planned out here, we think. And we're going to present some opportunities for him to be a real superhero. And, you know, the real story here, though, I think any child battling cancer really is a superhero. And this is just so sweet that we get to do something amazing and get people excited about our little superhero. We have people who are - I'm watching Twitter and people are showing up in their Batman gear, and they're going to wear black and yellow that day. And it's just, you know, it's Miles' day. And how special is that that he gets a great day after the battle he's had?
And by the way, he's doing great. He's out of the worse part of his treatment for leukemia. And he's feeling strong, which is one of the reasons why we waited to schedule this wish now, so that he'd have the energy to not need a nap on this day.
YOUNG: Well - but if Batman - Batkid needs a nap on November 15th - darn it - the whole city will pause while he has one.
WILSON: I think so.
YOUNG: But you - so I'm seeing, for instance, he's going to get a call in his Bat phone, and he's going to go to a window. He'll look down, there'll be a huge group of volunteers jumping up and down and calling for his help because the Penguin is going to be kidnapping a famous mascot. But who are those people, for instance, who are going to - how many people are going to be jumping up and down there?
WILSON: We understand that a lot of people have expressed interest. So it's my cousin that's organizing the flash mob. And...
YOUNG: There's a flash mob.
WILSON: Because, you know, you got to have a flash mob. And so it's going to be on Union Square. And I think there'll be a few hundred people down there at that point and, I don't know, who's showing up on City Hall. But I let the police know. But I think it's going to be big.
YOUNG: I have one little thought. If people do show up in, like, the Riddler outfit, like, Miles might go after them.
WILSON: Oh. I don't think so. I mean, because he'll - what we've got planned is we have a - an adult Batman who, by the way, is a friend of mine. He's a former stunt double. So Miles has a buddy. So he's going to be doing whatever adult Batman wants him to do.
YOUNG: Oh, and you - so you're going to have a stunt double who might actually do things like...
WILSON: Oh, yeah. No, we - I have an acrobatic coach, I've got pyrotechnics. The real Adam West has called and is coming. I mean, we - someone offered a drone to drop things out of the sky.
WILSON: I - we're just laughing. I mean, it's just - now, it's just funny.
YOUNG: You know, it just - it sounds wonderful. If you are in San Francisco on November 15 and you see a convertible sprinting away from a scene of a crime, in it will be Batkid after catching the Penguin on his way to City Hall. Just - really quite something. And, Patricia, I'm guessing that you hope that these people who are responding, coming from around the world for Miles might check out some of the other wishes.
WILSON: Oh, absolutely. And we love - we'd love them to be part of Gotham City for this one, so come and join us. But if you can't, watch on Twitter and Facebook because we are going to unveil this wish in real time for everyone who can't be there. And then check out every other one. There are so many amazing stories. My chapter alone, we're facilitating over 300 wishes a year. And every one is an extraordinary story.
YOUNG: Patricia Wilson, executive director of Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area. On November 15, they, along with thousands of volunteers, are going to turn San Francisco into Gotham City for five-year-old Miles. Patricia, thanks so much.
WILSON: My goodness. Thank you.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
And, Robin, we've got a link to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for the Bay Area at hereandnow.org. I'm just looking at some of the other wishes here: A four-year-old who wishes to be a fisherman, another four-year-old who wants to go to Disneyworld and a three-year-old who is just wishing for a train-themed play structure.
YOUNG: Yeah. So check out your Make-A-Wish Foundation in your area. And by all means, if you're going to be in San Francisco, you know what you got to do on November 15th. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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