SEVENTEEN-year-old Nick Gerke knew something was up when he became the center of attention at an assembly at Fredericksburg Christian School on Wednesday morning.
His father had come up with a cover story about a raffle connected to an upcoming formal dance, a ruse extended momentarily at the assembly by the chemistry teacher of the junior from Orange County.
But soon enough, the real reason for the special gathering became clear.
Gerke—who loves everything about Marvel and DC comics and hopes to be a graphic designer someday—will be one of the fortunate few attending the première of the much-anticipated “Avengers: Endgame” movie in Hollywood on April 22.
He’ll travel there with his father, Thomas, and get the opportunity to see the film and hopefully speak with the movie’s stars on the red carpet, thanks to the national children’s charity Kids Wish Network and donors that include Fredericksburg Christian.
So how did it feel to suddenly be the sole focus of all that attention at the assembly?
“It was a little like one of those dreams where you’re up in front of the whole school and you realize you’re standing there in your underwear,” said Gerke, who noted that the event became much more fun and gratifying when he realized it was about going to see the Avengers movie première.
“I’m really excited about going to this première, and to have the chance to see what all the stars and director are like in person,” he said, adding that he doesn’t really have a favorite among the ranks of the Avengers.
“It sort of depends on what’s happening in each movie as to who’s the most interesting,” he said, adding that being in the first group to see the movie will be cool.
Thomas Gerke said that the last five years have been anything but cool for his son, who was diagnosed with (HLH5) Familial Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis. It’s a disorder that causes the immune system to produce too many activated immune cells, which then attack internal organs and the central nervous system.
The release from Kids Wish Network notes that only 30 cases of Gerke’s version of the disease have ever been diagnosed. Of those cases, it said, 19 were diagnosed post-mortem, the other 11 during a flare-up. Of those, only nine lived, all after having bone marrow transplants.
His father put it this way: “Nick is the first person to ever survive a flare without a bone marrow transplant. The doctors don’t know how or why. We’re in uncharted territory. Could he have another flare? We don’t know.”
One thing the elder Gerke does know is that his son has been a trouper. He’s fighting his way back from massive nerve damage from his legs to his throat, the latter requiring him to eat through a feeding tube. A recent surgery has helped with that.
“He’s back at 92 pounds now, but was down to 60 at one point,” said the father, noting that Nick lost lots of muscle mass and suffered through serious pain, at one point having to relearn how to walk. He takes low-dose steroids to aid in his recovery.
Nick has regained much of his mobility, drives himself to school and through all the adversity has managed to earn his way onto the honor roll.
“There have been some very low times, but he’s fought his way back,” Thomas Gerke said. “Kids in his school have been absolutely fantastic. The whole school, faculty included, is heavily vested in his recovery, helping him and praying for him.”
The father, a federal employee, said he’s also excited about being along on the trip to the première, and noted that he and Nick may well make a book of all the film’s stars to have them sign on the red carpet, where he’ll be one of a handful of youngsters attending courtesy of the Kids Wish Network.
I’ll catch up with both Gerkes when they get back from the trip to share all the details of what sounds like will be an amazing few days.