MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — When their son was diagnosed with brain cancer, Zach and Amy Sowards were overwhelmed by the support, spiritually and financially, they received from family, Berachah Church members, neighbors and complete strangers.
One day after returning from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, where their son, Porter, 10, had his first brain surgery, they found 20 envelopes filled with gift cards, checks and words of encouragement, in their mailbox.
“We didn’t even know most of the people,” Zach Sowards said. “Not even sure where they came from.”
On Friday night, the Middletown family received another gift from the community, again from complete strangers, but this time dressed as characters from their son’s favorite movie series.
Three characters from Star Wars — C3PO, Chewbacca and R2D2 — performed a surprise visit with Porter and his sister, Lola, 8, students at Middletown Christian School.
For about 15 minutes, as Porter asked C3PO questions and hugged Chewbacca and R2D2, he was just a kid living out a fantasy as his LEGO characters came to life instead of a 10-year-old facing an unknown battle with cancer.
“For all he’s going through, this provides hope that everything is going to be OK,” his mother said while standing outside. “It’s just a blessing. I believe in God and I believe God is sending things like this to Porter to help with healing.”
Porter, a fifth-grader, was diagnosed with brain cancer on Sept. 17 after a CAT scan performed at Children’s Hospital Liberty Campus detected a tangerine-size tumor. He was flown to Children’s Cincinnati for two surgeries for the aggressive cancer. He’s receiving chemotherapy.
His mother was asked what lessons she has learned in the last two months: “To be patient. We have to wait for answers, wait for all the test results. That’s not easy as a parent.”
Tim O’Sullivan, a Purple Heart recipient, is the man behind the Steven Spielberg-approved Star Wars costumes. He uses a 3D printer to create the elaborate costumes.
While Joey Arielle was applying black shadow around her eyes, pulling shoulder and hip pads around her petite frame and stepping into her 7-foot-2 Chewbacca costume, O’Sullivan was in another room piecing together his C3PO outfit.
It took three people — Middletown police officer Jim Lusk and John Hart and Nicole Condrey, two members of Middletown-based Team Fastrax, a professional skydiving team — to carefully fit the costume and the wires that operate the lights and microphone around O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan, his face drenched in sweat after the appearance, said the C3PO costume is the “most complicated, most claustrophobic” of all the ones he has designed. After Iraq, O’Sullivan said, he needed to “find something to take my mind off my combat experience.” He found that in his 3D printer and charity appearances.
“The smile on his face,” O’Sullivan said when asked what he enjoyed about Friday’s experience. “That’s priceless. We love it. We love doing it.”
Arielle said her mother taught her that everyone is God’s children. “We’re all supposed to help each other out,” she said. “Do the best we can whenever we can for whoever we can.”
C3PO, Chewbacca and R2D2, operated by a remote control, waited in the basement until Porter and Lola were led into the room.
Zach Sowards predicted his son would “freak out” and “wouldn’t know what to do” when he saw the Star Wars characters. Instead, Porter talked to them like they were his friends.
Hart and Condrey presented Porter with several items from Team Fastrax, including an autographed poster, a Dreams of Fastrax certificate for an evening plane ride with his family, a body flight in an indoor wind tunnel and a commemorative coin that makes him “part of our team,” Condrey told him.
Hart told Porter: “You are loved by a lot of people.”
Some close and some in a galaxy far, far away...