The Lassiter High School junior has been using a wheelchair since he was 10 years old, when he was diagnosed with a rare genetic neuro-muscular illness, Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It is terminal.
Carpenter celebrated his 17th birthday in March, but his family wanted to do something special for him, and that’s when Lassiter’s students and staff stepped up in a big way.
“His teacher asked, ‘Why don’t we do a big celebration for him at the school?’” his father Steven Carpenter said. “They said they’d take care of everything.”
He mentioned to the teacher that his son’s favorite character was Spider-Man, and everything seemed to fall into place.
Brandon arrived at school Friday sporting his own costume. He was welcomed with a huge sign that read “Welcome Superhero Brandon.” Cheerleaders rooted him on, and the band played while he was escorted through the school halls to a special breakfast in the cafeteria for him and his family.
“It was almost like the Academy Awards,” Steven Carpenter said. “Imagine thousands of people waiting for you and every student dressed up like a superhero.”
He said his son had a wonderful day.
“Brandon’s not as expressive as a normal person, but he said he definitely enjoyed it and was overwhelmed and couldn’t believe how many kids were there,” Steven Carpenter said.
Brandon’s mother Sandra said the reactions from the Lassiter faculty and the parents she saw over the weekend after the special day were great.
“The staff said they have never seen such a participation from the students,” she said. “The principal (Chris Richie) also mentioned that in all the years he’d been there, he’d never seen an event like that.”
Parents came to Sandra over the weekend saying they couldn’t get over how excited their children were to be a part of the event for her son.
“They said it was very touching to see their daughters involved in something like that and wish the school would do more like that,” she said. “The impact that it had on the teenagers was amazing.”
‘All the kids showed up’
Brandon’s parents thanked his special-education teacher, Cathy Zingler, who helped coordinate Superhero Day.
“She really spearheaded the whole thing, and she should be given the most credit,” Steven Carpenter said.
Zingler was a little more humble about it and said her students are the ones that deserve the kudos.
“I just planted the seed, and everybody just went with it,” she said. “This wasn’t homecoming, this wasn’t senior prom, this was for one kid in our entire school and all the kids showed up.”
Zingler said the idea was sparked after talking to Brandon’s parents about their son’s declining condition.
“I taught a man with a similar illness many years ago, and when he passed away, it was quietly,” she said. “He was there one day and not the next. There were no changes in the school, and that bothered me.”
She said they knew they couldn’t cure the disease but wanted to make sure Lassiter showed Brandon lots of love and support.
“Lassiter needs to show him that he is somebody and is important,” she said.
More about Duchenne muscular dystrophy
The average life expectancy for someone living with Duchenne muscular dystrophy is between 17 and 25. There is no cure.
“Unfortunately it is one of the worst,” Steven Carpenter said. “He was diagnosed when he was four and a half years old.”
Symptoms of the disease, which typically appear in boys before age 6, include learning difficulties, muscle weakness, difficulty walking, breathing problems and heart disease by age 20.
“The illness causes the body not to produce muscle … consequently, he gets weaker and weaker,” he said.
Anyone interested in learning more about the disease or to make donations, can do that by visiting the Cure Duchenne Foundation online at cureduchenne.org. There is also a link to a page for Brandon Carpenter at support.cureduchenne.org if you search for him by name.