Samuel Asher Sommer, known throughout the North Shore and far beyond as Superman Sam for the heroic battle he and his family fought for 18 months against leukemia, died Saturday at his Highwood home. He was 8.
Soon after Sam was diagnosed with refractory acute myeloid leukemia in June, 2012, he was given the nickname Superman Sam because of his love for superheroes. That is what he became through the rest of his life.
During that time Sam inspired 48 rabbis, 10 of them women, to shave their heads to raise money and awareness to fight pediatric cancer, according to an article published Saturday in the Times of Israel.
In October, Sam’s father, Rabbi Michael Sommer, shaved the head of Chicago Bear center Roberto Garza during Highwood’s Pumpkin Festival to benefit St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s efforts to fight the disease.
At that time, Sam was in remission after a bone marrow transplant at Milwaukee Children’s Hospital where he received his treatment. It looked like he would survive. It was not to be as the cancer returned two weeks later.
“Then you have to sit your 8-year-old down and tell him he's going to die," Michael Sommer said to the Chicago Tribune Saturday. That is what Michael and his wife, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, had to do. “He was an amazing child,” Michael Sommer added.
People throughout the area, the nation and other parts of the world followed the story of Sam and the rest of the Sommer family on the Superman Sam Blog. The blog was created by the Phyllis Sommer to keep members of her congregation and others in the community informed. Phyllis is an associate rabbi at Congregation Am Shalom in Glencoe.
The blog painted a vivid picture of how Sam and his family spent their final hours together. “I had a terrible feeling,” Phyllis wrote about her observation of Sam’s condition Friday morning. A trip was made to the hospital in Milwaukee that day to make Sam more comfortable.
After dinner, friends and family left around midnight. Michael went to get some sleep while Phyllis sat vigil in the first watch.
“His breathing began to change,” Phyllis wrote as Friday turned into Saturday. “There were long pauses between the breaths. I caught myself holding my breath and the nurse and I exchanged a momentarily-frightened glance. We turned on the lights, we got Michael from upstairs.”
Michael and Phyllis Sommer were together with Sam again. “We held our child close,” she wrote. “He took one final breath. Sam was not alone for a single moment of his life. He died peacefully and calmly and quietly at 12:33 a.m. He was not in fear or in pain. And for that I am eternally grateful.”
Besides his parents, Sam is survived by his brothers, David and Solomon, his sister, Yael, and three grandparents, Marilyn Sommer, John Sklar and Sharon Sklar.
Funeral services are planned at 1 p.m. Monday at Am Shalom in Glencoe with burial to follow at Shalom Memorial Park in Arlington Heights.