COUNCIL BLUFFS — A Council Bluffs boy got a special message from one of his heroes — a literal superhero, if you will.
“Iron Man” and “Avengers” star Robert Downey Jr. sent a video message Monday to 7-year-old Jackson Tijerina. Jackson, a second-grader at College View Elementary School, has brain cancer and is currently taking an experimental oral chemotherapy drug his family gets through St. Jude Children’s Hospital, said his mother, Amy.
In the message, Downey Jr. sends his love along with a thumbs up.
“Jackson is that you, hi! It’s Robert Downey Jr., but you can call me Tony. Thinking about you, stay strong, know that my prayers are with you, and also, you know, life is challenging. And you are just the man for the job. So lots of love.”
Amy said Jackson is a big “Iron Man” fan and dressed up as the well-known Marvel hero for Halloween in 2017. Jackson also has his medical port in the center of his chest, similar to the chest piece Tony Stark has to give him his Iron Man powers.
“(Jackson is) more than willing to show his port and he does this little Iron Man pose,” Amy said.
Jackson was diagnosed in January 2016 after his parents took him to a gastroenterologist for several years seeking an explanation for his lack of growth and frequent nausea. Then, he started having severe headaches, and his doctor ordered an MRI. That’s when they discovered he had a brain tumor.
“Within two weeks, he was in surgery and having brain surgery,” Amy said last week.
That operation — the first of many — was performed on Super Bowl Sunday in 2016, she said. The staff at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha decorated Jackson’s room with Denver Broncos memorabilia. Jackson’s favorite NFL team was the eventual victor over the Carolina Panthers in that game.
The Tijerina family has a special bucket list of things Jackson would like to do, to ensure that he has experiences along the way that he can treasure, Amy said. He got to see the Broncos play, a family friend got him a football signed by Peyton Manning, he got to see tigers and mermaids at an indoor zoo in Denver and he got to tour Kinnick Stadium — although he has yet to see the Hawkeyes play.
Meeting “the real Iron Man — Tony Stark” was the last item on the list, Amy said. She put the special request out on Facebook in hopes that someone could help them out.
“Someone” turned out to be Council Bluffs resident Sue Wheeler, who has a friend in the movie industry. Wheeler said she had gone to school with Jackson’s father, James, and had Jackson’s sister Jade in a gymnastics class. She said she had been “keeping tabs” on Jackson’s story.
“It just breaks my heart to imagine what that family is going through, and the pain poor Jackson has to endure,” she said. “When I saw his wish to meet Robert Downey Jr., I wondered if my friend had any contacts … so I thought maybe she might have a way to get to someone like RDJ. Lo and behold, my old pal pulled through!”
When Amy found out that Downey Jr. would indeed send a video message, she said she was a little leery.
“I wasn’t sure it was for real,” she said. “But they sent it to me right away and it was Robert Downey Jr. I was like, ‘Is this legitimate?’ And then, immediately after, I received a message that it was the real thing.”
Understandably, Jackson was thrilled, Amy said.
“He was jumping up and down, and he was smiling from ear to ear,” she said. “He was so excited and I was crying.”
As a thank you, Jackson and his sister sent Downey Jr. a special video message in return: “Thank you, Robert Downey, Jr.,” they said in unison.