Superhero Will Fire spreads healing power

Patient Stories |



Eight-year-old William Flannery is fighting a brain tumor, while his alter ego is on a mission to help kids.

By Maureen Gilmer, Riley Children’s Health senior writer,

William Flannery has an alter ego that few people know about, but he is flying high over Riley Hospital for Children.

Eight-year-old William – aka Will Fire – is a second-grader from Muncie who has been given superhero status by The Superhero Project, a nonprofit whose mission is to support kids with life-threatening illnesses.

In real life, William is a little boy who wants nothing more than to be home building LEGO kits and playing with his three older brothers and cousins, but he is also a warrior.

He is fighting a malignant central nervous system embryonal tumor, diagnosed earlier this year. William underwent surgery by pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Jignesh Tailor to remove the tumor at Riley in January, followed by weeks of proton radiation and months of chemotherapy.

His treatment journey continues, but he and his parents, Ryan and Ashley, have been inspired by the work of others to bring William’s superhero dream to life.

As part of a collaborative storytelling mission, William was interviewed over Zoom to find out what kind of superhero he would like to be – from his hair down to his boots – and what superpower he would wish to have.

William, who particularly likes Iron Man among today’s superheroes, chose healing for his superpower because he wants to help cure kids who are sick like he is, he told his mom.

After the interview, the family received a special delivery to their home, a package that included a watercolor picture and a glossy poster of Will Fire, complete with a medicine bag filled with shots of healing power, fire-propelled boots and his trusty sidekick, Samuel the turtle.

When asked where his superhero character should fly, his parents assumed he would pick Moab, Utah, his favorite place on Earth. But he surprised them.

“He chose Riley,” his mom said as she sat in the playroom on the fifth floor of Riley recounting the family’s journey over the past several months.

Designed by Erin O’Leary Brown, the poster includes a narrative on the back that incorporates William’s answers to questions posed by The Superhero Project.

“Will Fire is fierce! This brave and bold superhero is on a mission to cure all diseases and make every child healthy,” it reads in part. “He carries all the tools he needs for research and treatment in his doctor’s bag, from chemicals and beakers to a stethoscope and reflex hammer. … He journeys from Riley Children’s Health around the world helping people, flying at lightning speed with his amazing rocket shoes.”

In a note to William, the artist writes, “I hope that you and your family like the poster design. I also hope when you look at it, it reminds you that just like the people standing by Riley Hospital for Children in this picture, we are all cheering you on!”

When Ashley took the poster to have it framed, it was returned later with a tiny note tucked inside: “Be safe out there. Your superhero secret is safe with me.”

Gestures of kindness like that from strangers and friends alike help lift Ryan and Ashley when worry threatens to rob them of joy.

During an appointment with oncologist Dr. Daniel Runco, the family talked about how they will remember the year 2023.

William had the best answer of all, his mom said.

“2023 is the year of Will Fire,” he told them.

Related Doctor

Jignesh K. Tailor, MD, PhD

Jignesh K. Tailor, MD, PhD

Pediatric Neurosurgery