STILLWATER, Minn. — Through radiation and chemo and endless hospital stays, Wyatt Crosser fantasized about fighting the bad guys.
The 6-year-old had it all worked out.
He’d wear his royal-blue cape and superhero eye mask, drive up in a black Lamborghini and call on his friends, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to help.
Robot ninjas, dressed in black, would try to stop them, but Wyatt, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello would karate-chop them down on their way to a final epic battle with the Shredder, the armor-clad archenemy.
Victory was his!
Wyatt, who has a rare form of cancer, was undergoing his fourth round of chemo at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis last spring when a music therapist asked if he wanted to make and record a music video. James Orrigo, a Boston-based director, videographer and musician, was in town, and he’d brought his guitar and portable recording studio to the hospital.
Wyatt and Orrigo spent the day creating an animated music video called “Wyatt Saves the World!” It features a cartoon version of Wyatt working with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to defeat the black-clad ninjas and the Shredder.
“I’m Wyatt, and I save the world,” Wyatt sings in the video. “I’m flying through the air in my fast car. I’m coming to save the world.”
Creating the music video with Orrigo was the highlight of Wyatt’s week-long hospital stay, said his mother, Whitney Crosser.
“He hated being in the hospital because he was away from his brothers, and he hates being hooked up to the IV pole,” said Crosser, who lives in New Hope. “It was very limiting for him to feel like that, so he was just kind of down.”
Orrigo, whose visit was sponsored by the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, “turned not just the day around, but the whole rest of his stay,” Crosser said.
“It was so cool to see how he and James connected and worked together,” she said. “Wyatt loved it. He just felt so special. He got to be a hero in his own video.”
Helping big dreams come true
Last week, Wyatt got to star in his own music video. Orrigo returned to Minnesota as part of the Children’s Cancer Research Fund’s “Big Dreams Tour.” He is traveling throughout the U.S. and working with pediatric cancer patients and local high school students to create music videos.
Laura Sobiech, whose son Zach died of cancer in 2013, suggested they film Wyatt’s music video at Stillwater Area High School, Zach’s alma mater. Zach, of Lakeland, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma when he was 14 and died just days after his 18th birthday. He wrote the song “Clouds” as a farewell to friends and family; it’s been viewed on YouTube more than 14 million times, and its proceeds have raised almost $1.7 million for cancer research.
“This is where Zach performed — these are the first people who heard him sing,” Sobiech said. “He left this institution feeling very loved.”
Giving students and staff at Stillwater a chance to connect with Wyatt was a way of “giving back,” she said.
“It’s in the giving that we receive,” she said. “I know that’s a little cliche, but look at the joy here today. This is what it’s about.”
Making it all come together
Dozens of art, music, drama and video-production students at Stillwater worked for three weeks to bring Wyatt’s awesome adventure to life. Filming took about 5K hours on a recent Friday.
Wyatt, dressed in his royal-blue eye mask and cape, got to meet his super-hero compatriots in the school’s rotunda. Posters and signs with Wyatt’s name on them lined the walls.
Wyatt told Nathan Weisberg, 16, of Grant, dressed in a bright-green Leonardo costume with a blue belt and blue knee pads, that he was his favorite Ninja Turtle because “blue is my favorite color, and you’re the leader.”
Michelangelo, otherwise known as Greta Geiser, 18, of Woodbury, said it was “cool to see everybody have this common goal and passion for him. … We get to make his vision something big and something real.”
Orrigo asked Wyatt to practice his moves.
“You’re going to go ‘Hi-Yah!’ and do your karate moves,” he said. “Yeah! Nice. You’ve got some moves! You’re going to have to teach me some of those.”
The crew then moved outside, where a dozen black-clad robot ninjas awaited instructions.
“Robot ninjas, find a spot to hide, and then you guys are all going to jump out,” Orrigo told them. “Jump out of the bushes and come toward me! OK! That’s terrifying!”
He homed in on Michael Robinson, 16, of Lakeland, who jumped out of a tree and did a flip in the grass.
“It feels good to help,” said Robinson, a student in teacher Debbie Drew’s Cutaway video-production class. “He’s a little kid, and I know he just wants to have fun like other little kids.”
Goosebumps and smiles
Wyatt was beaming.
“Look at that smile on his face,” mom Crosser said. “This is like a dream come true. In his head, so many times, he’s planned what he would do if there were ninjas and a bad guy. He’d say, ‘I’m going to do this move. This is how I’d stand.’ It’s the symbolism of him taking on the bad guy. I see that. It’s really neat.”
Crosser said she got goosebumps when she saw the dozens of posters and signs that the students had made for Wyatt.
“I don’t think you can understand or overestimate the importance of community and support from people — even when you don’t even know them,” she said.
Wyatt's diagnosis and treatment
Wyatt, the middle of Crosser’s three sons, got sick toward the end of 2017.
“He was a really active kid, and all of a sudden he was sleeping all the time,” she said. “He was fatigued. He lost his appetite. He had a really low-grade fever. It was like 99, 100, nothing where you would rush him to the pediatrician, and it was in the winter, so I thought he just had a virus, but then it just kept happening, and increasingly he started complaining about his legs hurting.”
On March 4, 2018, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of pediatric cancer.
“When I looked at the scans, there were spots that lit up pretty much everywhere — head, spine, torso, legs, arms,” Crosser said. “Two different doctors had examined his abdomen, but couldn’t feel anything because the tumor was under his pancreas.”
Approximately 800 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with neuroblastoma each year. Wyatt is undergoing treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and is part of a vaccine trial that requires him to go to New York every six weeks for treatment.
“The hope is that it teaches his immune system to recognize neuroblastoma, and if it tries to come back, they’ll fight it off,” Crosser said.
Turning pain into a passion
Orrigo said he became interested in helping cancer patients after his mother, Karen, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. She died in 2012.
“It’s not the fun side of life,” he said. “You try and take something painful and turn it into something that can be used for passion. I wanted to make some really special experiences for others, and it works. … I just wanted to find a way to bring his song to real life.”
The owner of the black 2008 Lamborghini, Jeff Farahan of Minneapolis, learned about the project from Lee Eisenberg, a speech therapist at Oak-Land Middle School in Lake Elmo who lives in his condominium building. Farahan took an extended lunch break to drive to Oak Park Heights and help out.
“This is just great,” he said. “I’m really happy to be here and see this.”
Wyatt got to go for a spin in Farahan’s Lamborghini in the school parking lot.
When Wyatt exited the car, Orrigo filmed him doing a two-fingered whistle to summon the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The five then ran in slow-motion toward the school.
After defeating the robot ninjas for a second time, the superheroes came face-to-face with the Shredder.
“OK, Shredder, you just do those big shoulder shrugs you do so well,” Orrigo said.
The Shredder, aka Wyatt Ecker, 18, of Stillwater, laughed an evil laugh from his throne and then took off running down the hall, with Wyatt and his posse close behind. They ran through the graphic-arts computer lab, and students threw their hands up in surprise.
Assistant Principal Matt Kraft stopped Wyatt as he raced to the school’s theater rotunda. “Hey! This is awesome,” he said. “Thank you for being here.”
“Cancer can be such a negative thing,” Kraft said later. “To have a way to turn it into a positive … ‘Hey, we’re going to fight this,’ and to get others involved in that. It probably has just as much, if not more, of a positive impact on our students here than it has on Wyatt. That’s the beauty of it.”
The final shot
The final shot involved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ favorite food.
“Pizza! Who has the pizza?” Orrigo yelled.
That was Jack Denton’s and Quinn Evans’ cue. The two were charged with ordering and picking up four cheese pizzas from Pizza Ranch in Oak Park Heights, which donated the pies.
The 18-year-old Denton, of Stillwater, kneeled down in front of Wyatt and opened one of the pizza boxes. Wyatt grabbed it, ran up to the Shredder and threw it in his face.
The crowd went wild as the 6-foot-3, 220-pound villain fell to the ground. Wyatt raised his arms in triumph.
“Best. Day. Ever,” Wyatt said. “Everything was the best. But the very best part was riding in a Lamborghini and rubbing a pizza in Shredder’s face. I’ll never forget that.”
How to help
A GoFundMe page has been created to help Wyatt Crosser. Funds can be donated at gofundme.com/littlewarriorwyattsfight.