"Supergirl" Has Healing Powers
Posted by Paula Paine on December 2, 2013 in Alumni, Athletics, "School of Education", "The College", "Your OU"
When she dons her blue Lycra suit with the big “S” and trademark red cape, Jessica Meditz-Porter '03 transforms from mild-mannered Overland Park mom into Supergirl. One needs little proof of her superpowers beyond the bright, enthusiastic smiles on the faces of young patients she visits at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
Every other month, the 32-year-old visits the hospital’s Child Life center with her entourage of costumed superheroes and friends. Along with the handful of Star Wars characters, the kids also meet comic book heroes like The Green Lantern, HawkGirl, and even American Dream—the female version of Captain America. The group never arrives empty-handed to the hospital, either: they bring gifts like toy action figures, comic books and free tickets to Comic Con—Kansas City’s annual comic book convention. Depending on their availability, a few comic book artists will also tag along to create one-of-a-kind, personalized sketches of the kids interacting with the characters as keepsakes of the visit. “It’s an incredible experience for each of us,” explains Meditz-Porter of joy of brightening the lives of young patients. “The kids enter the room connected to wires, tubes and IVs; some are pushed in wheelchairs,” she relates. “I approach them at the door and say, ‘I’ve got some great stuff for you today, and some neat people for you to meet.’” Her Supergirl persona, she says, has provided her the perfect vehicle to channel her desire to volunteer and help kids. Her goal with each hospital visit, she says, is simple. “You want to make the kids feel special, and put a smile on their face—even if it’s just for a few moments,” Meditz-Porter says. Supergirl’s visits can sometimes involve up to a dozen costumed characters. (“Thirteen is our limit,” she says with a grin.) She’s the only character, however, allowed to interact one-on-one with the patients. The rules in the Child Life department are few: don’t ask about a child’s illness or prognosis, and don’t say “goodbye” when the visit is up. “We just say,” Meditz-Porter adds, “see you next
time.” Carrie Criss, Child Life Program Coordinator at Children’s Mercy Hospital, sees the powerful influence that Supergirl’s visit has on her patients.
“Our kids take an immediate liking to Jessica when they first see her in costume,” Criss explains. “It’s no surprise that it’s the girls who really connect with her,” the coordinator says. “They look at her outfit, they look at her boots. She reminds them, ‘You’re a superhero—just like me
.’” When she’s not being a mom, or flying to Supergirl-related events, Meditz-Porter can be found at Midtown Athletic Club in Overland Park, where she works as a personal trainer, a job she obtained after graduating from Ottawa University in 2003 with a degree in physical education. It’s no doubt that the work allows her to stay fit for the superhero part. The idea to become Supergirl arose innocently enough, she relates. It began with a favor for her soon-to-be-husband; it was a “Comic Book Wednesday,” and then-boyfriend Brandon Porter asked if she could stop by Elite Comics, 11842 Quivira Rd, Overland Park, to pick up the newest titles. Comic book fans and collectors need no introduction to this weekly, geeky ritual popularized by the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.” Each Wednesday, the industry releases new comic book titles to stores. Fans and store owners alike look forward to Wednesdays like a kid awaits Christmas. At the front counter, Elite Comics owner William Binderup couldn’t help but notice the blond hair and the athletic build of the former Ottawa University cross country runner and soccer player. The next time Brandon was in the store, he asked, “Do you think Jessica would be willing to dress up as a super hero and work in our booth at Kansas City Comic Con?” Meditz-Porter thought he was joking when she heard. But the more she thought about it, the more she was intrigued. “As a kid, I remember seeing the Supergirl movie and thought she was incredible,” Meditz-Porter adds. “I could relate to her character.” She commissioned a local dress maker to create a one-of-a-kind, custom-fitting suit. “I told her that I didn’t want just a Halloween costume, either,” she relates. But nothing could prepare her for the moment when she first put the costume on and walked into the Elite Comics booth at Comic Con. With all eyes on her, Meditz-Porter immediately felt the power. “The booth was so overrun that you couldn’t get anywhere near it,” Binderup recalls of her first appearance in 2009. “You’d think that we were selling beer,” the store owner adds. “Jessica must have posed for about 1,000 photos with fans, freaks and geeks.” So popular was her character that the weekly Kansas City lifestyle and entertainment magazine Ink
asked her to pose for its March 2009 cover. “It was their best-selling issue of all time,” adds Binderup. He later laughs when asked why he thought Meditz-Porter would make for a good superhero. “C’mon,” he says, with a grin. “Not only is Jessica super beautiful, but she also has a fantastic personality.” The latter was evidenced at the very next Kansas City Comic Con, when a mother and daughter made it their sole mission to find Meditz-Porter at the show and personally thank her. “You’re
the reason we’re here,” the mom told her. “Thanks,” Meditz-Porter replied politely, thinking that the mom meant the Supergirl character. “You don’t understand,” the mom explained. “We came here just to see you
. From the moment my daughter first saw your photo on that issue of Ink
, she wanted to meet you.” “I was floored,” Meditz-Porter remembers. Her notoriety at Comic Con led to a radio interview to talk about fitness and healthy eating. It was there that Meditz-Porter first mentioned that she’d like to use her character to visit kids in the hospital. Moments later, a caller provided her a contact at Children’s Mercy Hospital. She called the next day. While the life of a superhero is serious work, Meditz-Porter, says it does have its humorous moments, like the first time she took her costume to her local dry cleaners. “They looked puzzled at the costume and didn’t know what to think at first,” Meditz-Porter remembers. “ I told them, ‘Don’t you lose it, and don’t you ruin it.’” Her original costume eventually had so much wear that she’s already on her second
one. The first is prominently autographed and framed at Elite Comics. For Meditiz-Porter, the odd stares and occasional giggles from those who see her in costume for the first time can still be unnerving. But when they learn why
she wears the costume, they want to either dress up themselves or help in other ways. Veterinarian Matt Mayerske, DVM, of Elite Animal Care, opted for the latter. Running late from a Children’s Mercy event, Meditz-Porter was still in costume as she rushed home to meet Dr. Mayerske for a house call for her dog. They pulled into her driveway at the same time, and Supergirl emerged from the car. “He was a little surprised to see me in costume, but when I explained, he thought it was great,” she remembers. “The next week, he sent a donation check from his animal practice.” This act, Meditz-Porter relates, never gets old. “These kids in the hospital are smart,” she says. “They ask me, ‘Are you really Supergirl? Do you really fly?’ “I tell them I could
fly, but didn’t because the hospital is in a no-fly zone,” she says. “I do remember a kid telling me once that I could probably give a demonstration from the helicopter pad on the hospital roof.” That’s why it’s important for Supergirl to always be on her toes for these visits. She admits that she loves the spontaneity that her clients bring. “These kids may be sick, but they’re fun,” Meditz-Porter adds. “And these visits help to remind them that being a kid is all about having fun.”