A local parade for a child who had just beaten cancer recently lit up a Southwood Park neighborhood.
In honor of eight-year-old Aiden Newberg, a hefty crowd of neighbors, well-wishers, educators, Fort Wayne Police Department cruisers, and Fort Wayne Fire Department trucks drove in procession past Aiden’s home on Tacoma Avenue a couple of weeks ago, according to Aiden’s aunt, Betsy Yankowiak.
Aiden’s aunt said that when Aiden – a usually bashful boy – was ushered out of his house to stand in front and see the parade passing by, he curiously asked his Mom, Katie, about why they had come outside.
“He just looked up at his mom and said, ‘Why are we out here?’” Yankowiak said.
Before long, a loud, hand-waving, engine-revving, siren-blaring line of cars and community volunteers were streaming by Aiden’s home, even tossing him gifts from their windows, including some Oreo cookies, she noted.
She estimated the procession included dozens of friends, neighbors, teachers and administrators from St. John the Baptist School, about five or six Fort Wayne Police Department squad cars, and one Fort Wayne Fire Department fire truck to honor Aiden’s accomplishment.
Aiden first started showing signs of illness after hitting his head in 2017, Yankowiak said. Not long after, his skin began to turn an orange tinge, so his mother took him to a local pediatrician to have a check-up. That doctor performed some tests, but ultimately referred him to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, where Aiden was diagnosed with leukemia.
He was admitted there in November 2017, when he was just six years old, and began receiving chemotherapy for his illness. “He started chemo right away,” she said, “and those treatments were sometimes more or less intense.”
Because he also was given steroids to help his body deal with the chemo, Yankowiak shared, Aiden also soon developed a more-than-hearty appetite.
“He’d wake up and ask his mom for steak or chicken stir-fry for breakfast,” Yankowiak said with a chuckle.
But, after a couple of years of treatments, Aiden was recently declared well enough to return home. He finally got to ring the Cancer Bell, a tradition at Riley when cancer patients are finished with their acute care, on Jan. 7.
Having finished his care at Riley, Yankowiak said, Aiden’s family was looking for a way to celebrate. They talked to another parent whose child was in treatment at Riley who mentioned that their neighborhood had staged a socially-distanced parade.
“So, we spoke to the Fort Wayne Police Department, the Fort Wayne Fire Department, and the Unitarian Universalist church in our neighborhood, and they were all more than willing to help us put this on,” Yankowiak said.
The line of people and vehicles staged in the church’s parking lot, at 5310 Old Mill Road, then moved in a procession down Tacoma Ave., past Aiden’s house, and then out onto the surrounding streets.
She said Aiden was thrilled to watch the stream of people and vehicles move past his house, some of which even turned around at the park strip in the middle of Tacoma Avenue and drove past for a second time, just to make sure Aiden got a good glimpse.
Immediately after the parade, Aiden said to his mother, “Mom, that was fun. Can we do that again?!”
Yankowiak said Aiden’s family is especially grateful to the police and fire departments for making the event so special.
“We really appreciate the Fort Wayne Police and the Fort Wayne Fire Department,” Yankowiak said. “They really helped raise the bar and make this an excellent parade.”
Aiden will still continue to have periodic appointments at Riley to make sure he’s staying healthy, but his family is just happy to have him home so they can return to some semblance of normalcy.
“Now, we’re ready for Aiden to sign up for t-ball and camp, and just get back out there and be a kid again,” Yankowiak said.