ST. PETERSBURG - On a glorious blue sky afternoon on St. Pete Beach, the sound of small children squealing with joy is enough to put a smile on any face.
But as if being a kid at the beach on a school day wasn’t magical enough, little Blake O'Connor and his two sisters, Cameryn and Mackenzie, found out there was another surprise waiting for them, to make their day even brighter.
From behind a palm tree, clad in yellow retro Batman shorts, came the caped crusader himself - a volunteer from the MUCH (Makers United for Children’s Hope) Foundation, which provides superheroes who visit sick kids like Blake.
Blake has a condition called sacral agenesis, which causes a shortened spine, and a deformity similar to spina bifida. His 3-year-old body has gone through more surgeries than he can count, and there are many more ahead. So the MUCH Foundation recently gifted him his very own custom wheelchair.
“He has no tailbone, it just ends. He has four rods and screws in his back, two on his feet, each foot,” says Blake’s mother, Patricia O’Connor, as she looks on at her kids, hugging Batman.
But the surprises don’t stop there. A superhero of a different kind was at the beach, too. His name is Tyler Thompson, and he has spina bifida himself. His super power? Raising money, to give kids beach wheelchairs. With some help, he’s able to fly them all the way from Alabama.
The day was Blake’s first time on the beach in one of Tyler’s spiffy custom beach wheelchairs. A moment, that brought his mother to tears.
“We are so lucky to have all of these people come together and do this for him,” she said. “it’s amazing.”
The way these two groups came together is a story in itself. Each, seeing stories on the other, done by 10News and anchor Dion Lim. Patricia, Blake and their family first saw Tyler on Channel 10 the first time he came to Tampa Bay to deliver the first beach wheelchair to a little boy named Easton.
“I saw the video of Easton getting his chair and I was in awe. It’s great,” smiled Patricia.
Tyler saw that Blake also needed a wheelchair after watching stories about the foundation, and the rest is history.
All of the hard word - fundraising. Coordinating, costuming. It all ended with a tiny beach wheelchair, giving Blake the freedom for at least one afternoon to just be a kid.
“It means the world to us. It shows people with all the bad news, you also hear the good stuff. There is good out there,” beamed Patricia and she and her children walked down the beach, hand in hand on a glorious Florida beach day.
To learn more about the MUCH foundation, visit their Facebook page.