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Drama student plays Spiderman to boy with leukemia

After a long day of chasing the Green Goblin, Spiderman made his way to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh to pay a special visit to his biggest fan, Noah Rheinlander, on Saturday afternoon.

Noah is a three-and-a-half-year-old leukemia patient. Spiderman is a sophomore in drama named Ian Harding.

Last week, Noah’s aunt, Joanne Rheinlander, contacted people in the School of Drama with an unusual request: She wondered if an actor would dress up as Spiderman to cheer up her nephew, who recently underwent a stem cell transplant to treat his second bout with leukemia.

Drama professor Barbara MacKenzie-Wood responded quickly and sent out an e-mail to all drama students. Harding was the first to respond.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Harding said. “But I thought, ‘Sure, I’ll do it.’ ”

In a matter of days, Harding obtained a Spiderman costume, did some background research on Spiderman, and watched the first Spiderman movie to get even more tips.

Harding did not expect that Noah’s first reaction would be one of fear.

“Noah didn’t know what to think when he first heard that Spiderman was coming to visit him,” Noah’s mother, Danielle Rheinlander, said. “It was a little too much for him to grasp.”

Slowly, with the combined effort of his mother, grandmother, aunt, and Spiderman, Noah began to open up.

“Why don’t you show Spiderman your lunchbox?” Noah’s mother asked, pointing to one of many Spiderman toys and gear decorating Noah’s room. Noah has not been able to leave his hospital room for more than a month, except for major procedures.

Spiderman acted shocked to see a photograph of himself on Noah’s lunchbox. “They took my photograph?” he said. “They never told me about that!”

“I have Spiderman crayons and markers too!” Noah said. The ice was finally broken.

Noah excitedly showed Spiderman his collection of Spiderman toys, asked Spiderman to show him where the spider had bitten him, and made sure to point out all of the big scenes in the Spiderman movie, which was playing in the background during the visit. Noah’s mother said that the movie is almost always playing.

“If he has a 102 fever and he’s carefree like this, you know he’s excited,” Noah’s mother said.

Noah and Spiderman were inseparable for nearly an hour until it was time for Spiderman to leave.

Noah’s mom could not be more pleased with the scene. “He doesn’t get the opportunity to play with other kids because of the risk of infection. So this is huge for him.”

Noah’s aunt is grateful to everyone who helped out, including Harding, MacKenzie-Wood, Elizabeth Bradley, Diane Collins, and Jennifer Chapman, all of whom are in the School of Drama. Their generous efforts to benefit a complete stranger, she said, allowed a little boy’s dream to come true.

“In just three days it was thrown together,” she said. “And it’s just perfect.”

Noah’s mother commended Harding on his excellent job as Spiderman, adding that Noah has no doubt that he met the real Spiderman.

“He told all the nurses ‘I saw Spiderman today! We hung out and he’s my friend,’ ” she said. “He doesn’t even question it.”
Spiderman also enjoyed the afternoon with his new friend.

“It was a good feeling,” Harding said.