MANATEE — He’s got well over 2,000 fans on Facebook.
He’s waging a war against an evil arch nemesis by the name of spina bifida.
He’s Lil’ Superman.
And to his family and friends, the little boy sporting a blue mohawk with a contagious personality is Wyatt Smith.
Wyatt was born with spina bifida — the most frequently occurring and permanently disabling birth defect in the United States that affects 1 out of 1,000 newborns.
The defect happens when the spine fails to close properly during the first month of pregnancy.
Wyatt, who is now 8, has had six surgeries in his lifetime — four of those have taken place in the last three months.
He was diagnosed with the most severe form — myelomeningocele — which means a fluid-filled bulge forms under his skin on his back. He also has hyrdrocephalus, which means he has an accumulation of fluid in the brain. If it isn’t relieved, it can cause brain damage.
Wyatt walks with the assistance of braces on his legs, crutches and sometimes uses a wheelchair.
Wyatt was taken to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg in early April after he began suffering from lower back pain, vomiting and falling down.
“Usually I’m faster than my sister every Easter,” said Wyatt. “But this year my sister got more eggs than me. I knew something was wrong.”
Doctors learned Wyatt has tethered spinal cord syndrome, meaning tissue attachments limit the movement of the spinal cord causing him to have more symptoms. He needed surgery.
Wyatt received the nickname after his father, Brent, evoked images of the D.C. Comics character, Superman, as he was going into surgery April 6.
“Before your first surgery, we kept telling you — you were Superman, because you were scared,” Brent told Wyatt. “We were scared.”
When Wyatt woke up still groggy from morphine and in pain he looked into his father’s eyes and asked, “Daddy, am I still Superman?”
Smith assured him he was.
Wyatt has a long road ahead. His parents both work for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. His mother, Jodie, has had to take a leave of absence to help care for him, putting the family of five on one paycheck.
Friends at work have rallied around the Smith family. They are ordering bracelets to sell in Wyatt’s honor. They are organizing fundraisers to help the family with bills.
A website has been posted to create awareness, and Wyatt has his own Facebook page his dad monitors where people can follow him.
When he’s been home recovering, the fans — many of whom he’s never met — have lifted his spirits.
“He gets online and reads stuff and he’s a completely different kid,” Smith said.
It’s inevitable that Wyatt will undergo more surgeries in the future.
A new soft bubble has already began forming again at the base of his spine that is about the size of a softball under the six-inch incision mark.
So far, the shunt placed in his head prevents fluid from accumulating around his brain and to drain to his lower organs.
In the meantime, the Smith family manages one day at a time.
So does Wyatt.
“I just do it,” Wyatt said. “I just say I’ll do it and I do my best to get through it.”
Follow Wyatt and learn about planned events at www.littlesuperman.org. You can also say hi to Wyatt on Facebook under Lil’ Superman Wyatt Smith.