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The Kid Who Saved the City
Annie Tittiger | Photo: Brittany McLaren | June 20, 2014
Five-year-old Miles Scott won the hearts of millions worldwide. But Batkid belongs to San Francisco, and we belong to him.
To reach Tulelake, you veer off I-5 in Weed and steer 90 minutes northeast on a lonely two-lane highway through territory that looks more Montana than California: Ghostly marshes hug the edges of the pavement, wild pheasants swoop by your windshield, and Mount Shasta soars above, shrouded in ominous-looking storm clouds. The only other vehicles on the road are 18-wheel rigs and two-story-tall tilling tractors, looming monsters that you begin to imagine might transform into Decepticons and smash your pathetic little SUV. Hopping back and forth over the Oregon border, you drive on until you finally find yourself in the idyllic farm town of Tulelake, a mere seven blocks wide, grain fields stretching from the edge of town as far as the eye can see. This is where Batkid lives.
When he greets me at the door, Miles Scott, the five-year-old leukemia survivor who became an international phenomenon when his wish to be Batman was granted by Make-A-Wish’s Greater Bay Area chapter, pretty much ignores me. It’s the kind of embarrassed disinterest common among shy kindergartners, but it’s clearly not a family trait: His two-year-old brother, Clayton, takes to me immediately. “Who are you? Who are you?” he says, bouncing up and down in the carpeted entryway of the Scotts’ modest mid-century home, wearing nothing but a diaper and an orange T-shirt.
Miles and Clayton’s mom, Natalie, a 27-year-old vocational nurse with a thick mane of blond hair that she tucks behind her ears, shakes my hand and directs me to the bathroom (I’ve been on the road a while, after all). “The wallpaper in there is kind of crazy,” she warns. “We had a flood a few years ago, and it’s the only room that wasn’t soaked, so it didn’t get updated.” She’s right: The bathroom is lined with pink and gold Aquitaine-style wallpaper, ’80s-chic lantern lights hanging over the sink. An orange and lime-green training potty seat next to the tub complements the decor nicely.
When I emerge, Miles and Clayton have taken to running around the living room. They bounce off the big gray sectional, dart past the old wood-burning fireplace, and pause suddenly at the picture window that looks out on the front lawn. A faded gold 2007 GMC pickup has parked in the gravel drive.
“It’s the Golden Pick!” Miles exclaims, and I realize that he is now addressing me. “My dad calls it the Top Hat, but I call it the Golden Pick because it’s gold and it’s a pickup,” he says, giddy in anticipation of his father’s arrival. Nick Scott, a big-boned 29-year-old hay and grain farmer (of whom Miles is the spitting image), comes in through the back door wearing a flannel shirt under a down vest. With a massive mug of coffee in hand, he settles into a well-worn leather armchair. Miles clambers onto his back and throws his arms around his father’s neck. Nick barely flinches. Natalie has moved to the floor, sitting on her knees and patiently dressing Clayton one sock at a time while he wriggles away to continue building a Lego ship. They are all within arm’s reach of each other, a storybook picture of the American family, about as tight as a four-person unit can get.
When we get up to tour the house, everyone rises at once, the boys scuttling from room to room to point out the Batman paraphernalia that is, unsurprisingly, everywhere. The kitchen is filled with crayoned pages from Batman coloring books. Miles’s room is decked out with posters, a Batman blanket, and trinkets from the Batkid day. Nick’s office walls are covered in newspaper clippings, including the instantly collectible San Francisco Chronicle faux front page: “Batkid Saves City!” Below it hangs the key to Gotham that San Francisco mayor Ed Lee bestowed upon Miles. Nick pulls out a box overflowing with letters from all over the country. He rummages through a pile in the corner and pulls out a two-foot-wide papier-mâché Bat symbol. “I don’t even know what to do with this,” he says ruefully. Miles grabs it, putting it against his chest. “Look,” he says, lowering his voice a few octaves and puffing out his chest: “I’m Batman!” The phone suddenly rings, and the family pauses for a beat. Nick sighs wearily, then lets it go to voicemail. Ever since November, when Miles went viral and the Scotts’ lives changed forever, the landline has been ringing nonstop. Media reps nationwide still want to get ahold of Miles, the Batkid, to get him to dress up, play the role, lift our spirits. “Part of the problem,” says Nick, “is that we don’t have caller ID.”
It’s hard to draw a direct line between the peaceful, ordinary scene here in the Scott home and the crowds swamping the streets of San Francisco, the national news outlets broadcasting Miles’s face to millions of viewers, the tweet and stilted six-second Vine from Barack Obama (bemused, thumb pointing: “Way to go, Miles. Way to save Gotham!”). All I see now is a young family slowly preparing for the day’s adventure, a trip up to Medford, Oregon, for a cousin’s birthday party. Nick and Natalie are more concerned with getting everyone in socks and out the door than with who may be on the other end of the phone line. They have a calm maturity that one doesn’t expect from media-besieged parents in their late 20s, but then again, they’ve been through a lot in the past four years.
Miles was only 20 months old when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in early 2010. It all started when he fell off a barstool at Natalie’s grandmother’s house. His parents took him to an inpatient clinic in Klamath Falls, Oregon, to get x-rayed, thinking that he might have broken something, maybe his clavicle. He turned out to be only bruised, not broken, but a few weeks later Nick and Natalie noticed a suspicious lump right below his ear, so they took him back. The doctor thought it was an ear infection and sent them on their way with some antibiotics. But Miles wasn’t getting any better: He wasn’t eating, he was vomiting all the time, and he was having trouble sleeping.
At the time, Natalie was working at the same clinic as Miles’s primary care physician, so one slow drop-in day she asked Nick to bring their young son into the office for some blood work. What it revealed was every parent’s worst nightmare: Miles's hemoglobin was incredibly low, his white blood cell count incredibly high, and his immune system completely shot. The doctor immediately called the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland and loaded Miles with antibiotics. Nick and the child got on a plane and flew up that night, and Natalie and her mom followed in the car, not arriving at the hospital until 2:30 in the morning. The family stayed in Portland for three weeks, one week in the hospital, another two in a nearby Ronald McDonald House. A few months before, the water heater had burst back in Tulelake, inundating the Scotts’ entire house—the flood that Natalie mentioned earlier. Nick had wanted to do the work himself, but because of the emergency they had to hire outside contractors. “You can see that the workers messed up the floors,” says Nick, pointing to missing grout between the kitchen tiles. “But no one was here to make sure they did it right.”
It was around this time that a social worker at the Ronald McDonald House told the Scotts about Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit that grants the wishes of children diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition, but Nick and Natalie wanted to hold off on registering Miles until he was healthier. “We didn’t want to make the wish for him,” says Natalie. “We wanted to wait until he was well enough to wish on his own.” Miles technically went into remission in May 2010, but in order to make sure that he wouldn’t relapse, doctors recommended chemotherapy (most boys, Miles included, have to endure an extra year after the normal dosage in case the cancer is still hibernating in the testicles). For three years, the Scotts made the trek to Portland every three to four months, with additional two-hour trips to Medford for chemo treatments. Miles’s medications caused night terrors and mood swings, constant fatigue, and never-ending stress on his immune system. “Everything was a danger, even his own stomach,” says Natalie. “He could have ingested some harmful bacteria from fresh produce.”
Since he couldn’t do much else while he was sick, Miles watched a lot of Batman, “the old Adam West ones,” his dad explains. Soon, as he felt stronger, Miles got into dressing up. He would run around the house, the backyard, and the front yard in costume, often making baby Clayton dress up with him. And it wasn’t just Batman. “He likes them all,” Nick says. “He goes through phases; new movies come out—Green Lantern, Captain America. But Batman was his first and was always the best.” (Miles still has a closetful of getups, from Spider-Man to Superman and, of course, the Batkid costume—“It’s not a costume, it’s a suit!” he clarifies—all hanging neatly in a row as if they were his everyday wear.)
As Miles was wrapping up treatment in February 2013, the family finally registered with Make-A-Wish. A husband-and-wife duo came up from Mount Shasta to interview Miles—alone, Natalie jokes, “so he could actually articulate what he wanted, and not have us saying, ‘Wish for a Corvette!’” Natalie and Nick told the volunteers that Miles loved Batman and superheroes, but that was about it. The husband took Miles into a room while the wife did paperwork with his parents. Miles sat for 30 minutes drawing pictures and talking—about what, his parents can’t say. But when he came out, he had his wish: He wanted to be Batman.