Probably the last place any 16-year-old would want to celebrate their birthday would be inside a hospital – even a state-of-the-art facility like Nemours.
But for Joey Maldonado, who has spent too much of his young life in a hospital due to a heart condition, his 16th birthday celebrated today may just be one of the most memorable yet.
On Saturday nearly 50 carloads of friends and supporters – and twelve firetrucks and six police cars – turned out at Nemours/A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children to take part in a special surprise birthday parade for Joey.
Car after car decorated with streamers, balloons, and lots of homemade birthday pronouncements started lining up in the parking lot at noon.
Several teachers and Brandywine Springs families were on hand to share their affection for one of their favorite students, who has made an indelible impression in the hearts just about everyone in the school community.
“Joey is everybody’s friend. He’s a really awesome student. He is one of the most caring, kind kids,” said teacher Ellen Behringer.
Waving purple party horns, another teacher said, “And purple rules! That’s Joey’s favorite color. A lot of us made sure we decorated our cars with some purple today.”
Guidance Counselor Lisa Risner said she was thrilled to take part in the birthday celebration for Joey. “Another mom reached out to me, and then I reached out to the staff. This is the very least we could do for Joey who’s been through a lot. We’re hoping this brings a smile to him on his special day,” she said.
Joey and his mother watched the exciting procession from the hospital, waving with delight to see such a celebratory turnout on this blustery April day.
Mom Blanca’s good friend Cheryl Dineen organized today’s parade, and she drove the first car, which she essentially turned into a Bat Mobile. She decorated her silver Kia with a poster of Joey surrounded by homemade Gotham City skyscrapers, the caped crusader image lighting up a night sky, and signs like, “KAPOW!” and “Holy Smokes! You’re 16!”
“We’ve got teachers of his, friends, family, and all sorts of people out here to support him and celebrate his birthday. I am really, really happy so many people turned out for this,” she said.
Joey’s best friend Maddox Torres was with his mom in the second car, which also featured Batman stickers, bright purple balloons and a homemade poster adorned with gift wrap bows.
“I’ve known him since Kindergarten. It means a lot to me. He doesn’t even know this is going to happen, but I love him. He’s like family to me. So, I’m really happy to come out here today and drive by and say hello. And I just love that we could all push through these tough circumstances with the coronavirus and just find a way to get together for him and wish him a happy birthday.”
After the parade, several people circled back at the starting point to give Dineen their posters for Joey, which she planned to give to Joey’s mom as a keepsake. “Hopefully seeing the support of so many friends will lift his spirits on his special day,” she said.