Toddler with rare disease serves as 2016 Holiday Parade’s grand marshal
‘Wyatt the warrior’ and Santa bring thousands joy in downtown Gilroy
Published in the Dec. 21, 2016 – January 3, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Marty Cheek
The holidays this year will hold extra special memories for a 2-year-old South Valley boy and his family. As grand marshal of the Gilroy Downtown Business Association’s annual Holiday Parade Saturday Dec. 3, Wyatt Catalano enjoyed a special sleigh ride with Santa Claus down several blocks of Monterey Road. The child then assisted the jolly old elf in lighting the community’s Christmas tree.
Wyatt was all smiles as he waved at the crowds of parade watchers lining both sides of the street. He was so excited by the honor of being grand marshal that he couldn’t sit down in the sleigh, his mother Shannon Catalano said.
The story of how Wyatt was selected for the honor is a heart-warming one. The boy and the Catalano family have faced struggle and triumph since his birth Halloween day 2014 at El Camino Hospital in Los Gatos. The newborn’s face, stomach and legs were covered with fluid-filled blisters. The doctor told the family she had never seen any skin condition like it.
Wyatt was transferred to Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital where a thorough medical examination showed he had a disease called diffuse cutaneous mastocytosis. The rare condition increases the number of mast cells in the skin, which releases histamine. These spots resemble chicken pox or measles. People born with the disease experience severe allergic blisters, with redness, itching, and the risk of anaphylaxis. Fewer than 30 cases of people with this form of mastocytosis are known in America, Shannon said.
The boy is so brave, he’s called “Wyatt the Warrior” by friends and family. At the recent holiday parade many of them wore T-shirts with Santa’s face and the boy’s nickname printed on them. Among them were Shannon, Wyatt’s dad Steven Catalano, and his siblings, brother Jackson, 6, and Tyler, 5.
“It was pretty exciting because he had a lot of people from the community who came out to support him,” Shannon said. “They just walked in front of the sleigh and wore the Wyatt gear and passed out flyers that talked about Wyatt’s disease. And they gave out candy that was the color of the Wyatt Warriors logo. It was awesome. It couldn’t be better.”
As the 2016 grand marshal, Wyatt brought awareness to the public about his medical condition. The family also is working to raise money through the Mastocytosis Society for pediatric research for the disease.
One of the fundraisers is a 5K called Wyatt’s Walk held in November at the Gilroy Sports Park which brings participants from Gilroy, San Martin and Morgan Hill. To help Wyatt, people can also go to the website www.mastowyattwarrior.org and find a donation link to the society combating the disease.
Earlier this year, Catalano family friend Sarah Antrim secretly started the process to nominate Wyatt for the holiday parade’s grand marshal. She forwarded the form to friends and then it quickly spread throughout the Gilroy community.
The outpouring of the support made it easy for the downtown association’s selection committee to choose the child as this year’s grand marshal.
The business group decided to make the announcement of his honor extra special. Gilroy Downtown Business Association coordinator Melanie Corona prepared a gift-wrapped Christmas box filled with helium balloons with notes from Santa Claus attached to their ribbons. On Nov. 6 at the second annual Wyatt’s Walk, Corona brought the box to a small stage and told the Catalanos that Santa had asked her personally to present it to Wyatt as an early holiday present. When the box was opened and the balloons rose to the air, the Catalanos were surprised to learn from the note that Wyatt had been selected grand marshal. He would join Mr. and Mrs. Claus on the grand finale sleigh ride of the parade.
“They’re a great family with a great following of friends and family and supporters helping the cause, so it was really an honor to honor him,” Corona said.
The association puts on the annual holiday parade to make the season extra special for all families in Gilroy and the South Valley region, she said. And honoring Wyatt this year added to the parade a heart-warming element.
“It’s important for the community to have a gathering where family and friends can connect in the downtown core, especially in Gilroy, to remind them that there is a downtown and it’s the heart of our community,” she said. “It’s a fun tradition that helps everyone here kick off the holiday season. There’s nothing better than small-town America parade with home-made floats, and bands and high school cheerleaders, and organizations coming together to celebrate the season.”
This year’s title sponsors were Gilroy Chevrolet and Recology, but many other local businesses helped in supporting the holiday parade, she said.
Among the crowd watching the passing pageantry and cheering Wyatt riding with Santa was El Roble Elementary School fourth-grader Chloe Smith sitting outside the Garlic City Cafe with her dad Bryson Smith and mom Debbie Smith, all enjoying a late dinner as they took in the spirit of the holidays.
“It’s fun and I love watching every year. It’s fun to see everyone on the floats,” the girl said.
“We love it, it’s like the kick-off for the holiday season,” Bryson said. “We get to see our friends and other family members and cousins — it’s something that is unique for Gilroy.”
Wyatt shared his adventure with his brother and sister and a few close children friends, Shannon said. “You can tell he was just elated the entire time, waving to people in the crowd, saying ‘Hi, everyone! Merry Christmas!’” she said. “He was just in awe when he got to go up on the stage to light the tree and looked at the crowd. It was a really special moment for our whole family. It’s such a gift. It’s really the best gift.”