'The Wire' provides a kid-friendly respite

Foundation gives sick children a break

Baltimore ... Or Less

October 17, 2004|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,Sun Staff

Zack Lare wastes neither words nor smiles.

In his 15 years, Zack has fought leukemia twice. He's quiet, and when he speaks, his words go straight to the point; he smiles only when truly happy.

For about three hours one afternoon last week, the Westminster 10th-grader was all grins. That was the day he was able to wander the set of The Wire, the Baltimore-based HBO television drama. He grinned when he saw the show's latest sets, when he met members of the cast and crew, and when he sat next to the director during filming.

His visit was sponsored by Believe in Tomorrow National Children's Foundation, a Baltimore organization dedicated to helping children with life-threatening illnesses. In addition to "hands-on " programs such as trips to the sets of TV shows and movies, the foundation also provides vacation homes and hospital housing for sick children and their families. For the past three seasons of The Wire, the foundation has taken children on tours of the set four or five times per season.

The goal is to offer the children and their families a respite from the grind of hospitals and visits to the doctor. "It's a distraction," said Karen Keatts, program director. "It's a day away when they can spend time with their family."

The Wire focuses on the city's drug trade, as seen through the eyes of politicians, cops, junkies and dealers. The show's fast pace was in stark contrast to the studio's stillness Monday. Crew members milled around certain areas, but most of the sets were dark and unoccupied.

Zack's father, Brian, and sister, Ashley, accompanied him on the tour. Brian watches the show religiously; Zack has seen it a few times. All were impressed at how much attention was paid to detail, such as a water stain painted on a police station wall or duct tape used to hold down a worn piece of carpet.

As the afternoon wore on, Zack yawned -- not from boredom, but from fatigue. He had been so excited that he wasn't able to sleep until after midnight the night before. Of all the show's technical departments, the wardrobe section amazed Zack the most.

"Within three days they've got to clothe 200 people," he said. "That's too many people to worry about getting clothes for. I have trouble finding my own clothes in the morning."

One of his biggest smiles came when he got to watch the live filming. Wearing a The Wire baseball cap, he sat next to director Joe Chappelle and watched the camera monitors with headphones on so that he could hear the audio feed.

"He's earned it," Brian said. "He's had leukemia twice. He's probably had about 100 spinal taps and he's probably had about 30 bone marrow taps. That's just a guess, but it feels like that much."

The tour was Zack's reward for finishing chemotherapy. He first was diagnosed with leu-kemia when he was 4, beat it back into remission and fell ill again when he was 12. The chemotherapy temporarily stunted his growth, making him look younger than his age, but he recently has started receiving hormone shots to offset the chemo's effects.

The foundation's programs through the years have considerably helped the family's morale, Brian said. It's been a welcome relief from all the hospital rooms, doctors and therapy, giving them a healthy boost to their outlook on life. "I think anything's possible," Brian said. "It's such a good organization."

The foundation's goal is to provide continuing support for children -- with not just one event, but several. Through the Children's Foundation, the Lares have gone to Orioles and Ravens games, Disneyworld, Six Flags, and Water Country USA, and they have vacationed three times at the foundation's house in Ocean City. At one baseball game, they met players Mike Bordick and Tony Batista.

"These kids are going through so much medical trauma and stress that it's something to look forward to," said communications coordinator Pam Goode. "Their parents may say they have to go for a spinal tap, which is really negative, but after the spinal tap [they] can go on vacation to Deep Creek Lake, where we have a retreat house."

As Zack's tour wound down, he stood in a design trailer and watched makeup artist Sandy Koepper showcase the tools of her trade. She opened a cabinet and removed jar after jar of fake blood and broken fingers used in the show. As always, Zack's response was short and sweet:

"That's cool!"

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