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Parade transforms dreams into Halloween reality

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Parents of children with special needs often say their kids can feel left out of typical kid activities. That’s not the case with Mary Free Bed’s Halloween Heroes parade. Each young participant chooses what he or she will be for Halloween, and a team of volunteers works together to bring those ideas to life. The kids get to keep their customized, transportable costumes to wear at school or around the neighborhood.

The parade – set for 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27 – includes 27 current and former Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital pediatric patients in costumes that expertly incorporate manual and power wheelchairs. The lineup includes the Polar Express, complete with coal car; a bath tub that makes real bubbles, a tank with a moving turret, a twinkling pink and purple carriage fit for a princess and a green Lamborghini.

“Halloween Heroes has uplifted our spirits and given us something to look forward to,” said Brandi Secrist, whose son, Logan, 5, will be dressed as a king atop a red and gold throne. Logan was born prematurely at 27 weeks of gestation.

Amanda Engstrom says her son, Alex, who has cerebral palsy, is excited about being a pilot in his lighted blue airplane. “It’s so important to bring awareness to all abilities,” Engstrom said. “Alex may look different, but he’s just like any other kid.”

Every parade participant has a unique story, including six-year-old Olivia Hanson. She developed a rare neuro-immune disorder on Labor Day that left her unable to even lift her head. She said she can’t wait to be a mermaid in her satin-lined clam shell. Divya Harkema, 5, is in Grand Rapids from India, thanks to the humanitarian organization Healing the Children. Her surgery to treat cerebral palsy was successful, and she’s re-learning how to walk. She’ll ride in style in her outrigger with sail as the Disney character Moana.

It’s a toss-up who enjoys Halloween Heroes more: the children or the adults who make the costumes. For weeks, Mary Free Bed staff and community volunteers have been creating the rolling works-of-art for the third annual event with university engineering students, employees of a local construction company and police officers. This year includes a special “Boo Award” presented by Rowan Geenen in honor of her twin sister, Willow, who passed away in August.

Halloween Heroes is the brainchild of Jane and Chris Weatherford, whose son, Cam, has cerebral palsy. Each year they incorporated his wheelchair into a Halloween costume. When they saw the joy it brought, they wanted other children and their parents to experience that, too.



  • What: Third annual Halloween Heroes wheelchair parade
  • When: 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27
  • Where: Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital
    235 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Community of Costume Construction

  • Mary Free Bed Hospital Guild and staff members
  • Owen Ames & Kimball Construction Company
  • Grand Valley State University engineering students
  • Grand Rapids Police Department Special Response Team officers
  • Members of the community

Parade Participants

  • Forest Hills Central High School Marching Band
  • Forest Hills Northern Kindness Club (members read to the kids on parade day and paint faces)
  • Grand Rapids Police Special Response Team
  • Grand Rapids Fire Department Firefighters
  • Kent County Sheriff’s Department Deputies
  • Cosplay Crusaders in superhero costumes
  • West Michigan Therapy Dog Association

Goodie Bags

  • Airway Oxygen
  • Forest Hills Northern Kindness Club
  • Grand Rapids Police Department

About Mary Free Bed
Mary Free Bed is a not-for-profit, nationally accredited, rehabilitation hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich. Since 1891, Mary Free Bed has restored hope and freedom through rehabilitation for children and adults who have experienced brain injuries, strokes, spinal cord injuries, multiple traumas, amputations, cancer and other diagnoses. The combination of more than 110 specialized medical and sports rehabilitation programs and an exclusive focus on rehabilitation enables our specialty physicians and staff to help patients achieve outstanding clinical results. For additional information, visit maryfreebed.com.

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