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Hospitalized children get hero-themed parties

Karen Katz poses in her Batgirl costume with Elliot, a child at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Katz is a volunteer with Holiday Heroes, which put on a superhero party for kids in long-term hospital care April 28. | Provided photo

By day, Karen Katz, 46, is a mild-mannered woman working in medical sales. But on Sunday she suited up as Batgirl and created superhero crafts to cheer up kids at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Katz spent part of Sunday painting masks with gel and glitter and decorating name tags for red capes with children and their families. Her fellow volunteer, law student Lindsay Proskey, donned a Supergirl getup.

They posed for pictures and kept the kids company as the kids and their families worked on their own makeshift hero costumes.

The event was put on to celebrate National Superhero Day by Holiday Heroes, a nonprofit that hosts parties for critically or chronically ill children who have been hospitalized or require long-term care. Sunday’s hero party at Lurie was one of seven held at hospitals and children’s care centers across Chicagoland.

The aim of the parties is to let hospitalized kids have some fun and get their minds off their medical issues. It can also help give their caregivers some temporary relief from the stresses that come with the children’s chronic or serious illnesses.

Holiday Heroes was founded in Chicago in 2009 by two sisters, 12 and 14 at the time, who got to know children with serious medical issues and saw a need to break the boredom and inject joy into the experiences of hospitalized kids, said Holiday Heroes executive director Bridgette Ferraro.

Now, the events feature different themes each month, such as St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day, costumed characters to fit the occasion, a different set of crafts depending on the holiday and sometimes music.

Holiday Heroes’ partner hospitals host about four parties a year, Ferraro said.

It was the first Holiday Heroes event for Katz, who said she volunteers for events and organizations that help children because she loves putting a smile on a kid’s face.

“I love to help the families out,” Katz said. “It gives them a break … I saw a father crying today just because he saw his child happy for a period of time.”

Melissa Sanchez and her 9-year-old son decorated superhero masks. Other kids paraded around in capes and colored pictures of their favorite characters. Sanchez said she thought the event was good for keeping the kids occupied while in the hospital.

It was Proskey’s second time volunteering with Holiday Heroes. Her choice of hero was made because the event needed a Supergirl, she said.

Ferraro said while the parties are mainly marketed at kids in long-term hospital care, they’re open to the entire children’s inpatient wards at the hospitals.

While Sunday’s event coincided with the actual National Superhero Day, Holiday Heroes will also be hosting superhero parties at Chicago-area hospitals on April 29 and 30. The full list is on the organization’s website.