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Window Washing Superheroes Wow Sick Kids

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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Superman, and he's washing windows! The life of a superhero is not meant to be dull, so it is perhaps surprising to see Superman, Batman, Spiderman and Captain America taking time out from saving the world from evil for the seemingly mundane task of window cleaning.

In the last few weeks, sightings of superhero window-cleaners have been reported in London, Pittsburgh, and Memphis. In our investigations, Samaritanmag discovered this has all been done for two very good reasons: One was to keep the glass facades of hospitals clean and shiny; the other even more important reason was to cheer up the patients of three children's hospitals.

What better way to distract young patients from their serious health issues than the arrival of their favourite action hero right at their window, waving in welcome as they wipe down the glass outside? Forget about pain, here's Spiderman cleaning the pane!

Our research showed that this brilliant and heart-warming idea originated in England. The Evelina Children's Hospital at St. Thomas' Hospital in London has made it mandatory for their window cleaners to dress up as such superheroes as Batman, Spiderman and Superman. From its beginning, The Evelina Children's Hospital was designed as an environment for sick kids that wouldn't feel like a hospital, and costume-clad cleaners clearly fit that mandate.

The highly successful Evelina experiment caught the eye of Michelle Matuizek. She's the office manager of the Pittsburgh-based company Allegheny Window Cleaning and the wife of company president Edward Matuizek. One of the firm's clients is the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, and Michelle decided to give the idea a shot there.

"On Facebook I saw the London window cleaners doing it, and I thought it'd be a great opportunity here. We went through the proper channels at the hospital and got the idea approved," she tells Samaritanmag.

The superhero cleaning spree took place at Children's Hospital on October 22, and was a huge success. Four Allegheny employees donned superhero costumes, portraying Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and Captain America. These were top-line costumes, rented from a theatrical company for $200 apiece.

"I got the costumes, and we didn't go cheap," says Michelle. "The Batman costume had 11 pieces to it and it was a rubber suit that was heavy and hot. Our foreman, Jimmy Zaremba, wore that, and he was a real good sport. We picked costumes that were non-threatening and we chose positive characters. We didn't want the Joker up there, scaring them!"

Michelle helped the guys dress up at the hospital's helipad, and they then rapelled down the building, washing the windows and giving the kids one deliriously happy surprise.

"It was just awesome," she says. "The kids had such a good time, and it was so uplifting for everyone. We picked the patient care areas where the children aren't able to get out of bed, and they just went wild. Our superheroes here had tears in their eyes that day."

She notes that "Children's Hospital is a great organization to work for, but it can be tough for the guys. There are times where they go into very sensitive areas and it's touching. This was really a great experience to bring the kids out of where they're at."

This feel-good story quickly went viral, spawning items on U.S. network TV, the CBC, and beyond. The response was something the Matuizeks had just not anticipated.

"It has really snowballed into something we never expected, and it's been wonderful," says Michelle. "I just heard from a friend in Alaska who heard about it, and I've been answering dozens of e-mails, letters and thank-you cards."

Edward Matuizek was initially a little skeptical about the idea, his wife admits. "I'm the only girl here, amongst all the guys, and I'm always trying to talk them into things like picnics. Ed said, 'The guys aren't going to do this and Children's [Hospital] won't go for it. It's crazy.' But I said, 'Let's ask,' and everyone had such a great positive experience. If every children's hospital around the country could do it, that'd be wonderful."

Michelle had not been aware that another American hospital and window cleaning firm had collaborated on the same idea just days before. American National Skyline (ANS) put on a superhero window washing show for the young patients at Le Bonheur Children's Hosptal in Memphis on October 17.

ANS Memphis division vice-president Sean Conley told Samaritanmag that their event was also a huge success.

"We wanted our workers to dress up so the kids could look outside and see something to make them happy, see us bouncing around on ropes. We got a great response from the kids and our workers loved doing it,” Conley says.

ANS Memphis operations manager Steve Oszaniec, who came up with the idea, told Samaritanmag that he said he'd never heard of the Evelina Children's Hospital before.

"Whenever we clean the windows at the Hospital, the children are always asking 'Are you guys Spiderman?' I just suggested we dress up as Spiderman, come down and wave at them in the windows. We got it approved, and I dressed up as Captain America. I walked through the halls too, and we put so many smiles on their faces. They kind of forgot they were sick for a minute."

Joining Captain America for the window washing at Le Bonheur were two Spidermen.

Given the great response to the event, Conley says his firm is looking at doing this in the other cities they operate. Oszaniec is right on board with that idea, noting,  "I'd love to dress up every time we do the windows at the hospital. Maybe we could all do it on the same day in every city."

So can we expect some superhero window washing up in Canada anytime soon? It seems not, sadly. When contacted by Samaritanmag, Patrick Blennerhassett, communications officer, Provincial Health Services Authority BC — the government body overseeing BC Children's hospital — said he was not aware of these activities elsewhere, and that no plans are being made to follow suit. A Halloween Parade will go through the hospital on Oct. 31, however.

Matet Nebres, senior manager, media relations at Toronto’s Hospital For Sick Children (SickKids), had a similar response: "To my knowledge this is not something that has been done at SickKids before and there are no immediate plans to do this in the future.”

Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.