(Editor’s note: This story originally ran Jan. 23, 2021. It’s being rerun as part of Features Editor Charmain Z. Brackett’s Fave Five of 2021, highlighting some of the stories that ran earlier this year that reader may have missed)
One moment made such an impact on a young Bryan Williams that he knew he needed to pay it forward.
Being hospitalized can be scary especially for a young child.
“I had to have heart surgery in 1977, just days before my sixth birthday,” said Williams, the owner of Bryton Entertainment, a video production company in North Augusta.
Born with a ventricular septal defect, Williams had a hole about the size of a dime in his heart, and it required surgery. While in the hospital, he had a visit he will never forget.
“There was a knock on the door, and this guy in scrubs and a Spiderman mask came in. I knew that everything was going to be okay,” he said.
It might have only been a person wearing a mask, but to the young boy, it meant the world. A superhero had come to visit him, and it put a smile on his face.
As an adult, Williams wanted to do the same thing for other children, so he donned a Superman outfit and made his first superhero visit to the Children’s Hospital of Georgia on Feb. 24, 2004.
Over the years, he’s made a lot of visits to the hospital, and he’s gone from a lone superhero to a band of more than 40 people. One of those to join him is his 10-year-old son, Christian, who dresses as Spiderman.
They don’t just go to hospitals; they attend a variety of events in the area. They are mainstays at the James Brown Toy Giveaway and have visited children-related non-profits such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Augusta. They’ve even gone out of town to camps designed just for children with illnesses such as cancer.
And Williams is interested to know the stories from some of those children for a project he’s working on.
Williams said his work with the superheroes’ group is a simple way of showing his faith, trying to be an encouragement to people who might be able to use a brief distraction.
Williams said he’s walking out a passage in Matthew where Jesus tells his disciples they are the light of the world.
“He wants us to go and be that light and use what you have from God,” he said.
A hospital visit might include a couple of the superheroes entering a room and fighting about who’s the best or has the most fans. That type of interaction breaks the ice, according to Williams. Immediately, the child is engaged and often picks a side.
Williams recalls one child who wasn’t verbal and didn’t make gestures, but after a visit, the child clapped much to the surprise of the doctors and family.
He’s seen many faces light up with smiles.
“I do believe when we go in the hospital, we do it for the right reason,” he said.
Williams has even had a full circle moment, where he met a little boy who had the same condition he had as a child.
“I told him I knew a guy who had the same heart issue,” he said. “I told him that he became Superman because of a visit from Spiderman. He knew it was me, and he gave me the biggest hug. He said ‘If you can come through it okay, I can come through it okay.’”
But it’s not just the children who find the visits meaningful, he said.
In 2005, he had a defibrillator implanted in his chest, and he’s had a few incidents involving his heart.
In 2014, his heart went out of rhythm, and he had to be hospitalized. At the time, his wife was out of town caring for her mother who was ill. His hospital stay was longer than he expected and he was sad. While waiting, one of the hospital employees came in the room. She recognized him from when she had worked in the children’s hospital, and she told him that he would always give her a hug. It meant something to her.
“That’s when I realized I was there so long,” he said. That woman needed the encouragement he brought, and she also encouraged him.
It’s stories like those that Williams wants to hear. If you or someone you know has been encouraged or made to smile because of Williams and his group, you can reach him at Bryton Entertainment at (803) 341-9435 or email at [email protected].