Sometimes little things produce tank-sized things.
Christian Hellwig is 15 and fascinated by engineering, from building flashlights to computers. He loves engineering almost as much as he loves his brother Aiden, 13, who battles Chiari Malformation, a congenital neurological condition that causes debilitating pain, weakness and diseases that often involve the body’s nervous system.
Aiden takes 23 pills a day just to get out of bed, and his condition forces a near-constant rotation in and out of hospitals for surgeries and treatments.
Since a recent brain surgery – his second this year – Aiden has been using a wheelchair. That threw a slight wrench into the brothers’ plans to go trick-or-treating this year. Christian began mulling over how they could carry on their tradition, wheelchair and all.
“We always tell him the same thing,” said his mom, Kerry. “It’s OK to be scared, to cry, but it’s not okay to give up. You can say what you want to say, but there’s no room for giving up. You can’t be defeated.”
“I decided I would take him (trick-or-treating),” Christian said, “but I had to do something to his wheelchair to make it look cool.”
Christian has spent a lot of time thinking about his favorite things: the military and engineering. This Halloween, his engineering fascination honed in on one mission: leave no brother behind. Joined by his best friends, Christopher Simonelli, 14, and Nick Panciera, 13, Christian concocted the perfect plan: a military tank made from boxes that could fit over Aiden’s wheelchair.
Putting the Plan in Action
Krys Gilbert works in the appliance department at Lowe’s in North Winchester, Virginia. It was late one evening in October when Kerry, Christian and Nick arrived to enlist her help.
“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, that is the coolest idea!’ ” said Gilbert, who is working toward her nursing degree. She zipped to the back of the store, but the day’s boxes had already been removed.
“She didn’t hesitate to offer to hold some boxes for the boys and was so excited for them,” Kerry recalled. A few days later, Gilbert called to check on the project and invite the Hellwigs to choose the best appliance boxes on hand. Those boxes, along with some PVC pipe, packing tape and spray paint, turned out to be exactly what the young engineers needed.
Christian estimates he, Christopher and Nick worked for about 24 hours total to construct the perfect costume, ignoring invitations to haunted houses, Halloween parties and other events most teens would scramble to attend. They also scoped out the neighborhood to identify the best plan of attack: houses without obstacles like stairs.
Aiden had no idea what they were plotting until the platoon showed up the day before Halloween. Not only had they prepared his tank for the trip, but each team member was also outfitted with soldier gear to accompany the tank.
Was trick-or-treating a success this year? Unquestionably.
When the boys unveiled the tank, Christian said Aiden “looked at it, his eyes got real wide, and he said it was the coolest thing ever.”
It took Aiden a few days to recover from the excitement and exertion. Despite his exhaustion, he told his mom not once but twice the next day it was all worth it.