A 5-year-old boy in Voorhees, New Jersey, has become a global sensation for his appearance in an “Iron Man” comic book. Max Levy uses the character to help him live with hemophilia.
Iron Man gets his superhero power from a high-tech suit of armor designed and worn by the character Tony Stark. What powers the armor is an arc reactor, a fictional nuclear energy source embedded inside a metal port sunk into Stark’s chest.
It’s not unlike a biological port surgically implanted into Max. As a hemophiliac, his blood is not able to clot or produce scabs. Minor injuries can quickly become major.
Max’s veins are not now robust enough to receive medicine intravenously, sometimes as often as three times a week. A semi-permanent port surgically implanted in his chest allows doctors to administer drugs quickly and painlessly.
“How do you explain to a 4 year-old kid that he needs a port in his chest?” said Max’s father, Dan Levy. “We had just seen the movie. So I said, ‘Remember that scene you thought was pretty gross where Tony Stark puts the arc reactor in his chest? You’re going to get one of those.’ He was so excited. ‘I get to be Iron Man?’
“I thought, ‘That worked.’ I can’t believe it,” Levy continued. “It was one of those parenting epiphanies.”
The operation happened a year and a half ago, and Max is doing fine. He plays Legos with his older sister, Zoe, and is a big fan of superheroes, in particular Iron Man and Captain America.
Zoe, for her part, rounded up her friends to take pictures of things they loved, including flowers, sports equipment, animals. She curated the images into a photo calendar, which was reproduced and sold to raise money for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“I wanted to do this so I could raise money for CHOP, so there would be cures for hemophilia and other diseases,” said Zoe. “My friends took the pictures, and sold some calendars, and raised a lot of money.”
Word of Max’s enthusiasm for Iron Man got back to Marvel Comics, which decided to write the child into the story. Max appears on four pages of Iron Man #4 when Tony Stark visits sick kids at a children’s hospital. (The issue is of more interest to hard-core fans because the character Mary Jane from the Spider Man universe enters the Iron Man cosmos.)
For his comic book debut, Max cops an attitude with Stark, more interested in the suit than the man.
“They nailed the kid,” said his father. “If there was one kid who would look at a billionaire and say, ‘I don’t care about you. Where’s the Iron Man suit?’ he would totally be that kid.”
Since then, the story of Max has caught fire. He has appeared on news outlets across the United States, including the national NBC Nightly News and his hometown newspaper the Courier-Post. Even far-flung stories in Canada, Ecuador, and Australia have reached out to him.
“Everybody likes me. Everybody knows my name,” said Max. “It’s awesome because I’m on TV.”
Dan Levy has lost track of how many interviews they have done.
“If you’re going to have your 15 minutes, I’m so happy it’s my kid who can spread info about hemophilia, and about what you can do,” said Levy. “Not only for funding and research, but if you have it, don’t be defined by what you can’t do. Be defined by who you are. For him, he’s a superhero.”
Levy says his son will likely have the port in his chest for at least two more years. By then, he hopes Max will have developed stronger veins to take medicine by needle.
Also, by then, “Iron Man 4” might be released.