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#CapeDayATL: How one boy inspired Atlanta... with a cape

Childhood curiosity landed DJ Pitts in the hospital in September 2013, when the then 3-year-old accidentally ingested liquid engine cleaner. A little over a year later, the cape-wearing kid is stealing the hearts of Atlanta residents through an event called "Cape Day Atlanta."When DJ was first brought to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, the engine cleaner had burnt through his esophagus, stomach
Stan Kaady
Today

Childhood curiosity landed DJ Pitts in the hospital in September 2013, when the then 3-year-old accidentally ingested liquid engine cleaner. A little over a year later, the cape-wearing kid is stealing the hearts of Atlanta residents through an event called "Cape Day Atlanta."

Today

When DJ was first brought to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, the engine cleaner had burnt through his esophagus, stomach and part of his small intestine. He couldn’t eat solid food, and the road to recovery looked long. But through it all, the Spider-Man-obsessed youngster’s bravery shined through.

Catherine Shields, a child life specialist at the hospital, worked with DJ during his six-month stay, and she recalls one day in particular, when a group of volunteers gave out capes to the young patients, “We could not convince DJ to take off his cape,” Shields told TODAY.com. “He was known as the kid with the cape around the hospital.”

Today

Hospital caregivers were even forced to create a backup cape out of a T-shirt for DJ to wear while the original one was cleaned. This 'superhero mentality,' those at the hospital say, helped him get through his 20 surgeries. And when the hospital’s marketing department heard about "the kid with the cape," they knew DJ was the perfect person for a special mission: to push the demolition button for a building that was being torn down next to one of their facilities.

Today

DJ put out a call to all the local superheroes, and declared Friday, Nov.7, "Cape Day" in Atlanta. Family, friends, hospital staff, a demolition crew and countless members of the community gathered at the site in the early morning hours. DJ pressed the button and watched in wonderment as the building came tumbling down.  

Today

“It was amazing to see all the people out there supporting him,” DJ’s mother Natoya Ruff told TODAY.com.

Others who were unable to make it to the event showed their support by posting photos on social media using the hashtag #CapeDayATL. 

The+Falcons+support+@childrensatl+and+#CapeDayATL.+pic.twitter.com/4B5rukJJ85

—+Atlanta_Falcons+(@Atlanta_Falcons)+November+7,+2014+

Made+this+for+my+AP+Calc+class+for+highest+participation+in+#CapeDayATL+at+@LGHS_HCS+!!+#yummy+pic.twitter.com/imqHTjH37W

—+Ms.+Seigle+(@seiglemath)+November+10,+2014+

Happy+#CapeDayATL!+We're+thrilled+to+be+sidekicks+for+@childrensatl!+Stay+strong+super+kids!+pic.twitter.com/SRcpM4SLyn

—+Atlanta+Ballet+(@AtlantaBallet)+November+7,+2014+

The hospital staff was blown away by the response: people at the Georgia Aquarium, the Atlanta Ballet and the city’s Mayor donned capes in support of DJ. Local fireman, police officers and students joined in as well, doing their best superhero impressions.

Today

“A lot of times being a patient in the hospital is an isolating feeling,” Shields said. “It was a way to show DJ and kids like DJ that the community is there for them.”

After the event’s epic success, they plan on making it an annual event, with a different child patient serving as the master of ceremonies. 

Jason Hales / Today

Today, DJ is back home with his parents and two older siblings, eating real food again and just being a kid. “He’s feeling pretty good,” his mom said. “He’s a normal four-year-old right now.”

And he and his cape are still inseparable. According to DJ's mom, “He thinks hes literally a miniature superhero.”