Hearing-impaired boy gets every kid's dream: becoming a superhero
(CNN) — Five-year-old Anthony Smith didn't think superheroes wore hearing aids, until he became one.
His mother, Christina D'Allesandro, says the epic journey began in May, when her superhero-fanatic son, who is deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other, refused to wear his blue hearing aid because "superheroes don't wear hearing aids" either.
Desperate, she decided to consult the experts. She found a general e-mail address on the Marvel Comics website and sent a message "into the ethers," asking if there were any hearing-impaired superheroes.
A few weeks later, the mother of two was shocked to get an overwhelming response from Marvel, including comic book art that honored her son.
"When he first saw the comic book cover, he said, 'Oh my God, it's me,' " she told CNN. "He was very excited."
"We decided to make him an honorary Avenger," a member of the Marvel Comics superhero crime-fighting team, said Bill Rosemann, a Marvel editor.
Two artists, Manny Mederos and Nelson Ribeiro, sent the D'Allesandro family comic book covers featuring their very own versions of honorary Avenger Blue Ear, inspired by Anthony, whose blue earpiece gives him the power to hear a pin drop from the other side of a state.
One cover features a younger Anthony and his buddy Hawkeye ready to fight crime. The other shows an older version of Blue Ear perched on a rooftop, tapping into his superpower and listening to a faraway call for help.
On Tuesday, the young New Hampshire boy is being welcomed as a special guest at an event at the Center for Hearing and Communication clinic in New York City, where he will get to meet a fellow crime-fighting partner in the Marvel Universe, Iron Man.
"The reason why it was so easy for us to respond to this is because our characters, which were invented around the '60s, all have real challenges." Rosemann said.
He talked about how each character "became superheroes despite of -- or because of -- the challenges they face."
Under his elastic Spidey skin is a skinny Peter Parker, who constantly gets picked on at school, Rosemann said. As a boy, superhero Daredevil was blinded in an accident that also gave him a radar sense. And Iron Man first created armor to fix his heart, which he then developed into his famous suit.
"We link challenges with their superpowers," Rosemann said.
"Our mantra is what (Marvel Comics chief) Stan Lee said: With great power there must come great responsibility. Our guys thought, 'If I have the ability to draw, I am going to use it to help someone like Anthony feel comfortable about his hearing aid.' "
Rosemann and his team collaborated with Phonak, the maker of Anthony's hearing aid, and came up with a poster to be distributed in doctors' offices across the country in an effort to destigmatize kids with hearing aids. The poster, to be unveiled at Tuesday's special event, features none other than fearless Iron Man, whose message is that kids who use hearing aids are just like him because "they are using technology to be their best self."
"It will be an Iron Man and Blue Ear team-up," Rosemann said about the event.
Closer to home, all the attention has brought excitement and meaning for Anthony and his mother.
"In this house, we are looking forward to meeting Iron Man," D'Allesandro said. "He is a big Avengers fan."
The experience has given Anthony the confidence and the ability to talk about his disability, she said.
"He goes up to kids and says, 'Hey, I have a little ear and a blue ear. Do you want to play?' "
People have reached out to her, and she says her family is grateful that this experience has connected her and her son to a wonderful network of families with special needs children.
When asked if there is a comic book series on the horizon featuring Blue Ear, Rosemann said, "There is nothing planned right now, but with so many people responding to Blue Ear, you never know what's next ..."
"People should just stay tuned."