From big screen to small screen, video games to amusement parks, superheroes are everywhere these days. But one Medina family lays claim to 2 bona fide superheroes (though they both may need to learn to drive before attempting to leap tall buildings in a single bound).
Zakai Miller, 12, had been thinking about a meaningful project for his Eagle Scout project. He had considered the typical projects like building a bench or landscaping a park when he remembered how much comfort his sister, Terjé, 14, received when she was given blankets and stuffed animals during her treatments for cancer.
He approached the Volunteer Office at Akron Children’s Hospital for guidance, and they put him in touch with Debby Rowland, who began a non-profit organization, called “Kids Capes of Courage,” that makes colorful, hand-sewn capes for young patients and other kids in need of superhero-like powers to get them through a tough time.
“Zakai and Terjé have always been close,” said their mother, Shayla Miller. “Even though she is older by 22 months, he has always been her protector.”
If anyone deserves a cape of courage, it’s Terjé, who was diagnosed with a neuroblastoma when she was 20 months old.
Living in Utah at the time, Shayla easily remembers those first warning signs of something not right her with baby: vomiting, dehydration and lethargy so bad she needed to be life flighted to the children’s hospital in Salt Lake City.
The next months were a blur with trips to and from the hospital for chemotherapy rounds and bone marrow transplants. Thankfully, one of her “home” periods coincided with Zakai’s birth.
The side effects of the high-powered drugs took their toll on Terjé’s young, growing body. She suffered severe hearing loss and now has bi-lateral cochlear implants. She has fought thyroid cancer and required surgery for hip dysplasia. That required weeks of physical therapy and essentially re-learning how to walk. The thyroid cancer is back and Dr. John Crow will remove more of her lymph nodes in August.
“This is all she knows,” said Shayla. “She may ask ‘why?’ but she has always handled every new challenge with the strength and grace our Heavenly Father has asked of her.”
Terjé’s positive spirit emanates throughout her large family. Shayla and Aaron have 6 children – Terjé is the oldest – and everyone has kept pace with 4 job-related moves (from Utah to Arizona, then back to Utah, and then onto Montana) before arriving in Medina.
Zakai, who moved steadily up the ranks of Cub and Boy Scouts during this time, had a secondary goal in addition to achieving Eagle Scout rank, the highest honor in Boy Scouting. He wanted to achieve it at a younger age than his father.
“As it turns out, I think he will beat his father by 6 months,” said Shayla.
Zakai bonded with Debby, who views her cape-making organization as a ministry of sorts.
“When I started making capes, it was really different [than the no-sew blankets],” Zakai said. “I’ve made mistakes along the way – I won’t deny that – and I’ve learned from those mistakes.”
Zakai doubled his goals and brought 50 capes and 47 knotted polar fleece blankets – plus a variety of toys and games – to the hospital as his Eagle Scout project wraps up. He either made them himself or oversaw production of them at a volunteer workshop at his church.
Debby was emotional seeing Zakai deliver his capes to the hospital.
“I think I may want to cry,” she said. “I can’t tell you how it makes me feel to see how many blessings have come from this.”
The family is excited to finally get Zakai’s labors of love into the hands of patients. He imagines kids donning the capes for imaginary play and taking comfort with a blanket during a hospitalization or treatment.
“We are so proud of them both,” said Shayla.