One man has made it his mission to spread joy and light to children with chronic illnesses or disabilities for nearly a decade.
Ricky Mena has become a beacon of light for children with his alter ego, "Batman." He embarks on regular visits to Bay Area hospitals, including the Children’s Hospital of Northern California, a pediatric hospital in Campbell.
Dressed in the iconic Batman suit, Mena visited little ones in the facility's sub-acute wing, giving the children a break from their long-term care.
"I’m really excited to see the kids today as Batman," Mena said. "I'm anxious when I come to visit. I get really nervous no matter how many years I do this."
Batman passed out gifts to the children before Christmas, each one receiving a toy donated to his non-profit foundation, Heart of a Hero. The Pittsburg native started the organization in 2014 during a rough patch in his life. He said a vision in a dream led him to this work.
"My main goal is to bring something that is hard to obtain, even for myself, and that's light, joy, and happiness," he said.
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Mena revealed the personal challenges that have come with his extraordinary mission. In 2017, he was diagnosed with PTSD, depression, and anxiety due to the emotional weight of his job.
When he first started visiting children, he dressed up as Spiderman. The years of constant crouching took a physical toll on his body. He switched to Batman in September 2023, but the mental toll remains a work in progress.
"I’ve seen a lot of pain in children over the years," he said. "It got extreme for me because I was holding kids as they passed away... my journey started to get really serious."
Ricky Mena, dressed as Batman, enjoys visiting children in California hospitals.
Then in 2020, the pandemic forced him to stop working. Yet, he couldn't ignore the void left in the lives of children, some of whom don't have regular visits from their family.
"When I did stop, I realized how hard it would be for me to stop knowing what's going on out there and knowing that kids have no one," he said.
Once coronavirus restrictions loosened, Mena got right back to helping kids forget about their own pain.
"As children, I feel like they're being robbed of their childhood in so many ways," he added. "Just showing up for an hour, two hours, and bringing that nostalgic feeling of childhood back can last a long time, and that's essentially what I'm trying to do."
Similar to the vigilante persona he portrays, Ricky has embraced his own pain as a part of life and is using it to fuel his mission of helping others.
"I am willing to do that because I see and know how much our services impact them in a profound way," he said.
He plans to pass the torch to someone else in about five years, but for now, he'll continue being the caped crusader, committed to lifting spirits. He's proof that even in the darkest of times, a hero's heart can shine the brightest.