Five-year-old Frank Colla was playing on the All Children's Hospital outdoor pirate ship Tuesday morning when he told his mother something that made her chuckle.
"He said, 'I want to see real pirates, Mom,' " recalled Amanda Colla of Plant City.
Moments later, they happened to glance through the picture windows overlooking the lobby and neither could believe the sight below: a group of swashbuckling pirates in full regalia.
"I was like, 'Oh my goodness! There are pirates!" Amanda said.
She and Frank promptly raced downstairs to see for themselves and promptly received a hearty pirate welcome - courtesy of Ye Mystic Crew of Gasparilla. Ten members of the longtime community and charitable organization had just arrived for an annual visit with patients and families, in advance of the iconic Gasparilla Pirate invasion and Day Parade Saturday in Tampa.
Then, Frank and Amanda followed the Krewe back to the ship, where the little boy posed for photos with his very own band of fun-loving buccaneers. It certainly couldn't have worked out better for Frank as he waited for his 8-year-old brother, Dylan, to get follow-up treatment for the bone marrow transplant he recently underwent at the All Children's.
Frank also has immune deficiency issues and neither of the boys will be able to attend Saturday's parade, due to their susceptibility to germs. But they'll have beads, eye-patches and lots of photos to enjoy instead. "This was so great," said Amanda, who is staying at the Ronald McDonald House with her two sons. "It couldn't have worked out better."
The Krewe made the most of their hour-long stay, handing out the traditional multi-colored beads to sick young kids on the seventh and eighth floors, lifting spirits at each stop. A 7-year-old Sarasota girl named Jenna, hospitalized for seizures, posed for photos and gave her best "Arghhh" in spite of her fatigue. They kidded with 8-year-old Abbey Masters of Port Richey, coaxing a smile from her in her bed. They cheered on a boy playing a "Zombies" video game, found pink beads for a girl who requested her favorite color. And so it went.
"This is a great experience - just something that we all enjoy doing," said the head of the Krewe, Todd Burnett. "You can see what it means to the kids."
Especially a little boy went who from daydreaming about pirates one moment - to sharing a ship with them the next.