Fantasy in Lights Shines With ‘Hope for Hines’
WHEELING – From Wookiees and Stormtroopers to jolly old Saint Nick himself, the 29th annual Perkins Restaurant and Bakery Fantasy in Lights Parade had a little bit of everything, but it was one of the event’s youngest – and bravest – participants who stole the show Friday night.
Seated on his mother’s lap, bundled up in a black and gold tuxedo and top hat over his Pittsburgh Steelers toboggan, 3-year-old Hines Rotriga, who has been battling stage IV neuroblastoma for almost a year, served as the parade’s grand marshal, joined by dozens of supporters wearing gold “Hope for Hines” sweatshirts.
As if leading a parade wasn’t enough, Friday was a big day for Hines for another reason: Just hours before coming home to Wheeling to ride in the parade, he received the last in his latest series of radiation treatments at West Virginia University Children’s Hospital in Morgantown.
“He’s doing really well. He’s his ornery self,” said Hines’ mother, Debbie Rotriga. “He’s been practicing his wave and his thumbs-up.”
Hines will have additional tests done in about two weeks, and his family is hopeful they’ll come back with no evidence of disease. Either way, Debbie Rotriga expects this will be a much merrier Christmas than last year. It was on Dec. 24, 2013 that Hines underwent an MRI in Morgantown, and he received his cancer diagnosis two days later.
“Last year we were in the hospital for Christmas and New Year’s,” Debbie Rotriga said. “Him being out and being well is so exciting.”
Hines’ aunt, Laura Rotriga, said the family has been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received over the past year. The “Hope for Hines” Facebook page has nearly 28,000 followers.
“What can you say about the community? It’s incredible,” she said.
Although Hines’ story has won the hearts of people from far and wide, his family knows they’re not the only ones going through a similar ordeal. In recognition of that, Hines’ parade float included several Christmas trees decorated with yellow ribbons, each of which bore the name of a child battling cancer that they’ve met along their journey – including 17-year-old Michael Carroll of Wheeling, who lost his battle with cancer in July.
Though he has his ups and downs, Laura Rotriga said she’s often amazed how Hines takes his illness in stride.
“It’s just awful, what these kids go through. … I don’t think he knows any different. He thinks this is how you’re supposed to grow up, and it’s not,” she said. “But he’s a trouper.”
A concert by Joe Zelek at 14th and Main streets kicked off Friday’s festivities. As night fell, so did the temperatures, but that didn’t stop massive crowds from lining the parade route.
Highlights of the parade included the Wells Fargo stagecoach, the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile and appearances by the Pirate Parrot and Wheeling Nailers mascots Buck and Spike. And, as always, after Santa Claus passed by, local legend Charles “Moondog” Waldrum followed close behind on his trademark, flag-emblazoned bicycle.
The Osiris Shriners’ float, meanwhile, featured a special guest, Anna Harrington of Idaho, who has been walking across the country since March to raise money and awareness for Shriners Hospitals for Children. That cause has been dear to her since her nephew was treated for scoliosis at one of the Shriners’ facilities in California.
She began in Astoria, Ore., and will finish her trek in Boston.
Bands from all over the Ohio Valley played during the parade, including those from Morgantown, Wheeling Park, John Marshall, Brooke, Magnolia, Bellaire, Bridgeport, Shadyside, Paden City, Valley, Indian Creek, Martins Ferry, St. Clairsville and Buckeye Local high schools, and Wheeling, Bridge Street, Warwood and Sherrard middle schools.