JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Seven-year-old Drew Wood of Clay County has been battling cancer since he was 4. Because of his strength and love of superheroes, he's been nicknamed "Super Drew."
If you ask his parents however, they'll tell you their son is a real-life superhero.
While he's not climbing skyscrapers or flying through the air, for more than two years, Drew has inspired an entire community. And now, he's doing it again, only it's global.
Drew and his family were enjoying a vacation at Sea World two weeks ago, excited he was almost finished with his treatments for a rare form of Leukemia. During the fun he was having with his mom, dad, brother and sister, suddenly Drew's breathing became labored. It worsened so quickly that his parents rushed him back to Jacksonville and Wolfson Children's Hospital.
Drew was placed on a ventilator to keep him alive. Meantime, his parents, Jon and Mandi, were left with the hardest decision they say they've had to make for their son: decide whether or not to allow doctors to perform an invasive biopsy in Drew's lungs.
Although difficult because the outcome for Drew was unknown, they made the decision to do it in the hopes of saving him.
In a cellphone video shot prior to the surgery, Drew -- even with the ventilator in place -- was able to make out three words: "Pray for me."
"For him to be able to look at us and say that to the camera seconds before he was back in a huge surgery, just shows me a strength in my little boy that I don't have myself," said Drew's mom, Mandi.
That quick clip of Drew's message, "Pray for me," was posted on social media and Drew got his wish, and so much more. His video and story was shared and friends and strangers from around the world have been showing their support.
Along with prayers, photos of superhero shirts, and a social media movement started by First Baptist Church of Orange Park encouraging members to ditch their church digs, for "Super Sunday" in honor of "Super Drew."
"We've had over 44,000 hits on
Pastor David, as the kids know him, has known Jon and Mandi since they were kids themselves and has known Drew and his siblings all their lives. The Wood's are extremely active at the church and certainly consider everyone there family.
"Our church members, I think we just about wiped out Target and Walmart and Kohls this past week, buying all the super hero shirts we could," said Pastor David.
Pastor David pulled up his pant leg to reveal another level of support: Batman socks. The wave of support doesn't stop with the superhero fashion or prayers.
Church members have been helping Mandi and Jon by taking care of Drew's brother and sister. And one Church member helped donate a room at the Crowne Plaza Jacksonville Riverfront Hotel, so they could be close to Wolfson Children's Hospital as Drew recovers.
During Drew's sedated recovery after surgery, a serenade inside Drew's hospital room. It's his favorite Christian song, "You Amaze Us," sung to him by the local song writer.
A touching video of that performance has more than 90,000 views, quickly trending on social media: #PRAYFORDREW.
"Changing your Facebook profile picture, and changing your Twitter profile picture and using a hashtag are wonderful, but that's not the same as prayer," added David. "We believe prayer is powerful,that it is not a gimmick and that it is something as follower of Christ we have been told to do."
Some of those prayers he's referring to were spoken over Drew just before his invasive surgery. Now that those tests are over, the prayers continue as the Wood family waits for doctors to figure out what's happening to their son's body.
Those prayers make the family feel so fortunate and thank everyone for granting Drew's only wish.
"We have learned how wonderful it is to be connected to a local church family, to extended church families and to the community-at-large," said Jon. "The feeling I've had in the last five days is just one of complete gratitude, that people care so much."
Both Jon and Mandi know that their son is strong and all they ask now is for people to simply "pray it forward."
UPDATE SINCE STORY FIRST AIRED ON NEWS4JAX: Drew has been moved out of ICU and into a regular room at Wolfson - where he will continue to recover. He also spoke for the first word time since before his surgery. He said, "Momma." (Watch video of Drew after the ventilator was removed)
Pastor David says every good superhero movie has a sequel. He plans to do another "Super Sunday," but one that "Super Drew" himself can attend in one of his favorite superhero costumes.
You can follow Drew's progress as well as the scheduling of the Super Sunday sequel on the First Baptist Church of Orange Park Facebook page. You can also follow Pastor David Tarkington's blog for updates, including videos and pictures. To support the Wood's family, there's also a GoFundMe account.
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