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updated: 12/18/2017 6:40 AM

'Star Wars' villians are 'good guys' visiting kids at Central DuPage Hospital

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  • Video: Star Wars comes to CDH

 
 

Noah Baig had big plans for his first night out of the hospital.

After spending the weekend in the emergency room, Noah got his mom's permission to stay up a little past his bedtime to see the new "Star Wars."

But for this fanboy, one thing almost came close to topping a trip to the movie theater for the opening weekend of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi."

Imperial troopers paid a special visit to Noah moments before he was discharged from Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield late Sunday afternoon.

"He's a little star-struck," his mom, Farah, said.

The troopers belong to the Midwest Garrison, the Illinois chapter of the 501st Legion, a costuming club that counts more than 10,000 members around the world. It's more than an expensive hobby for members who recreate the armored uniforms and weaponry of the villains in the "Star Wars" franchise.

"Troopers are good guys here," explains Danielle Fleckenstein, a child life specialist at the hospital.

Every other month, the group returns to Central DuPage to give pediatric patients a distraction from the scary tests and the bad news they sometimes receive in the hospital.

"Besides geeking out, it's just nice to be able to come out and visit the kids and make people smile for a little while, forget about what's going on," said Joe Bialek, who donned his AT-AT Driver suit. "At the end of the day, this is what we do it for."

Kids aren't the only ones anticipating the group's arrival. Parents demand pictures with the troopers and a life-size replica of R2-D2 that cost a Naperville garrison member about $10,000, six months and his wife's patience to build.

"They come in, and they're not only here for the kids, they're here for the families. They're here for the staff," Fleckenstein said. "They're kind of like family for us. It's pretty amazing."

And the normally composed doctors and nurses who deal with all kinds of trauma in the emergency room? The imposing characters stop them in their tracks, too.

Dr. Brian Hang is one of the medical professionals who want to play along. So he stepped forward in a mock emergency to give chest compressions on a Biker Scout also known as Chris Kowalski.

"I'm just a kid too," Hang said.

Eric Werner, who arranges the bimonthly visits on behalf of the Midwest Garrison, sees the same reaction in the moms and dads of patients.

"Parents get just as excited," said Werner, who lives in Carol Stream. "Sometimes it's more the parents pushing their kids because they want a picture to relive their own childhood."

The youngest patients, meanwhile, also didn't seem to notice that the mask-wearing visitors look a lot like bad guys.

"The babies have been so great today," Fleckenstein said. "They've been really curious."

"That's cause Kevin's with us," Werner responded.

Kevin Glass discretely uses a remote control to deftly steer R2-D2 around medical equipment and doting parents. The unit is so true to the movie version that Glass prefers to call himself R2's "handler" -- not his driver. And it's R2's robotic cooing and whistling that probably put the babies at ease and amazed their parents.

"This just totally made our day," said Ashley Olson, whose 11-month-old son, Dylan, was going home Sunday after recovering from an infection.

Garrison members don't ask families why their loved ones are in the hospital. And they certainly won't talk "Star Wars" spoilers in front of fans like Noah.

The Bloomingdale boy was supposed to go to an afternoon showing Sunday. But he fell off his sled Saturday, hit his head and ended up in the hospital.

Feeling much better Sunday, he walked out of the ER holding his mom's hand. And before he left, he had to wave goodbye to the troopers who hardly represent the Dark Side even if their costumes say otherwise.

"I know he's going to definitely be talking about this for a while," his mom said.