Jonah Henneberg: Transplant Superhero

by Beth Galvin @ Fox 5 Atlanta

ATLANTA (MyFOX ATLANTA) - For one Cobb County 6-year-old, every day is Halloween. Jonah Henneberg rarely leaves the house without a superhero costume and for him, dressing up is about much more than having fun.

Photo by Jason Getz, AJC

When Henneberg puts on a mask and cape, he's not just playing around. The Cobb County boy becomes a superhero in his mind, strong and brave enough to get through anything.

Henneberg knows his way around Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. The 6-year-old has been hospitalized there about 25 times. On Wednesday, Henneberg was back at the transplant clinic for a checkup.

The Mableton kindergartener is no mere mortal. In Henneberg's world, everyday is a good day for a disguise. "I wear them to the hospital, I wear them in my room, and I wear them to the store," Henneberg said.

"A couple of years ago for Halloween, he wanted to be Mr. Incredible, he'd just seen "The Incredibles" and I had this really cute monkey outfit all picked out," said Henneberg's mother, Kerrie. "I was like, 'No! You're going to be this monkey' and he pitched the biggest fit. And my mother was, like, 'You have to let him be what he wants to be.'"

That was the beginning of Jonah Henneberg's transformation from a sick kid to a superhero.

Wearing costumes has become the 6-year-old's way of growing up with biliary atresia, a rare disease that has destroyed his liver.

"From birth, you know, we'd be home for a few days, then in five minutes we'd get a phone call and have to be back at the hospital for two weeks," said Kerrie Henneberg.

Jonah Henneberg copes with his illness with costumes.

There's Batman. "I like Batman because he's very strong and I like his mask," said Henneberg.

There's Superman, and to Jonah, the coolest costume of them all which is Wolverine. "I like it [because] it has huge muscles and big claws and big leg muscles," said Henneberg.

Henneberg even creates his own superhero costumes. One costume is part "Toy Story" on the bottom and part "Transformer" on top.

Kerrie Henneberg said the costumes have helped her son get through some tough things. "It's not really him, it's this other, stronger, superhero and a superhero can do anything."

Kerrie Henneberg said she didn't realize how much her son needed his costumes, until he developed hives on the way to a check-up. "He took his cape off and said something like, 'superheroes don't get this! What is this! I can't be a superhero with this!'" said Henneberg. "He was struggling with, 'how am I going to go upstairs and deal with these doctors and what we're about to do if I have these hives and I can't be a superhero,' you know?"

In the intensive care unit after his transplant, a swollen Jonah wanted back in his "Iron Man" costume so badly that his mom and the nurses cut the back open to make it fit. Then Henneberg faced three more surgeries for complications.

Over time, Henneberg's doctors and nurses have become his sidekicks.

"He's either Batman and we're Robin or Flash and some other, or Humongosaur. Who knows?" said Dr. Rene Romero.

Dr. Romero said having seen Jonah so sick, it was incredible to see him thrive.

"He was always a great kid, he was always interactive, he was always a talker, but to see him have fun every time he comes here, is a great lift. I look forward to seeing him in clinic, I think everybody does," said Dr. Romero.

Jonah Henneberg's life has been touched by some real-life superheroes, too. There are the brave people who donated their dying child's liver to give another child a chance to grow up healthy.

"Not one day goes by that I don't think about them and think in my head, 'Thank you so much, thank you so much for doing that.' And I haven't been able to reach out to them yet, just because I can't form the words in my head," said Kerrie Henneberg.

Maybe one day, Jonah Henneberg, will say his own "thank you," but until then, he'll be busy saving the world.

"I'm just trying to send this energy out into the world that they know somewhere, at least for this one child, for my son, that liver saved a life, an amazing little life," said Kerrie Henneberg. "I am so grateful, I am so grateful for the life he's been given.

Jonah Henneberg has about a dozen costumes, but the ones he wants next are Captain America and the Green Lantern. 

Watch Video

Transplant Superhero 
Watch Jonah in action as he transforms into his favorite superheros.
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