State of the Art

When a boy fell ill, the theater community made him a superhero

Tony nominee Sydney Lucas of “Fun Home” (right) joins the #SuperGabe campaign in New York. Rebecca Buran Schultz of Charlotte’s Three Bone Theatre poses with her.
Tony nominee Sydney Lucas of “Fun Home” (right) joins the #SuperGabe campaign in New York. Rebecca Buran Schultz of Charlotte’s Three Bone Theatre poses with her. Courtesy of Tania Kelly

Summer’s the time for superheroes, as any movie fan can attest. It’s an especially rough time for a boy to go to the hospital with a disease as harsh as adrenoleukodystrophy (better known as ALD).

So when godson Gabriel Kornegay took a beating this summer from his illness, Charlotte actress Tania Kelly roused the theater community to cheer him up.

Andy Rogers, her compatriot in the sketch comedy group Robot Johnson, drew a picture of 12-year-old SuperGabe, flying up, up and away from affliction. Kelly started a Facebook campaign, asking people to post pictures of themselves with signs that had the hashtag #SuperGabe.

And folks responded – not just locally, but all the way to New York. A friend got the news to Sydney Lucas, Tony-nominated star of the Tony-winning musical “Fun Home,” who posed with the #SuperGabe sign.

Kelly grew up in Louisburg, a Franklin County town northeast of Raleigh. She befriended Cheryl Kornegay on their first day together in kindergarten, and they’ve been friends since. (Kelly also became godmother to Gabe’s older sister, Cai.)

Kelly says Gabe had a typical childhood until two years ago, when he was diagnosed with ALD. (The most famous patient with the disease is probably Lorenzo Odone, whose quest for treatment inspired the 1992 Nick Nolte-Susan Sarandon film “Lorenzo’s Oil.”) The disease affects myelin, a substance that forms a layer – the myelin sheath – essential to the proper functioning of the nervous system.

Seizures this summer put Gabe in a hospital in Durham, where his family lives. As he recuperated, Kelly launched the #SuperGabe campaign, posing in a red cape – well, a blanket draped over her shoulders – with her supercat, Juneau, gnawing her head. Her fiancé, Brandon Ballard, did the same without the cat.

Gabe, who’s just starting seventh grade, has gotten back on his feet. You can follow his story at a Facebook page, “Gabriel’s Journey,” though it’s rarely updated these days. And if you feel like posting your own encouragement, get that #SuperGabe sign in the photo and put #SuperGabe in the cutline, too. Every superhero needs sidekicks – sometimes, as many as he can get.

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