No one has ever told 7-year-old Dominic Osorio that he has brain cancer. Instead, his mother devised a story and made him the lead character. When Dominic undergoes surgery, chemotherapy or radiation, he is not a patient; he is the Dominator, waging war with an evil enemy that he calls a megazoid.
His grandmother, Monique Spagna, recalled the day Dominic finished weeks of daily radiation treatments at Johns Hopkins Children's Center that required the Bel Air boy to wear a mask and remain motionless for what seemed an eternity to a child.
"He could not move, so he would change identities and be the Dominator battling an enemy he called a megazoid," she said. "His mother came up with this story to help him deal with it."
On the last day of treatment, Dominic followed hospital tradition and rang a bell to signal he was done, she said. "So many others were inspired," she said. "They said if this kid could do it, so could they."
Many have come to know the story of the indomitable child and joined his crusade. Dominic, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, has inspired not only the new superhero character, but a comic book with a strong possibility for sequels, an official proclamation from Harford County government and a fundraising effort for children's hospice.
Dave Anderson often met Dominic and his family at the Bel Air restaurant he manages. The child would arrive with the usual boyhood bumps and scrapes and would banter with Anderson about how the arm was broken or the knee was scratched. But when Anderson learned about the Dominator and how Dominic was battling for his life, he went to work on fundraising and something he never expected - a book.
"People need to hear this kid's story," Anderson said. "He is a real motivator. All kids are our motivators, and they are what is important."
The more he heard about Dominic's trials, the more determined he was to help him and other children with cancer.
"Dominic is an awesome kid, who never got scared at what he had to go through," Anderson said. "He really is the superhero in this story. This one little boy has touched many lives."
Anderson helped create "The Dominator" character and a comic book tailored to children. He contacted Getz-Calandra Productions, which put together the illustrated book with a story line based on Dominic's struggles.
"We took a simple approach with the story and made it readable especially for kids in the hospital," said Tony Calandra of Abingdon, who also works as a physical therapy technician. "We have had big interest already. If this character takes off, there will be a second issue."
Anderson paid nearly $9,000 to design, create and copyright the Dominator and to publish 2,000 copies of the book. About 1,000 copies have been sold since the $5 book came out last month, with proceeds from sales benefiting children's cancer research.
"The more I got into this, the more I knew it was a powerful thing," he said. "I am dedicating 'The Dominator' to making sure that kids like Dominic have everything they need."
Anderson has organized several fundraisers, the most recent last month centered on a superheroes theme that included a proclamation of Superheroes Day by the Harford County executive. Officials used the event to focus on childhood cancer and to recognize "the unselfish and countless acts of heroism that people demonstrate every day in supporting children" who are fighting for their lives, the proclamation says.
The Dominator, in a red bodysuit with a large navy blue D on his chest, appeared with more well-known characters at that event and at several other fundraisers. Anderson in Dominator regalia has visited Dominic at Hopkins, along with Paul Day, who donned Batman attire.
Day, as Batman, recalled how he had stopped in to see Dominic at home last Christmas and what he whispered in the child's ear.
"I told him that I knew he was the Dominator, a superhero just like me," Day said.
The tumor continues to grow in Dominic's brain, despite the best efforts of his doctors. His mother, Nicole Spagna, is keeping a round-the-clock vigil at his side at Hopkins.
"His eyes are not open, but he knows we are all there," said Monique Spagna. "He has been fighting for two years, and he is still fighting. He always told us to believe. We are still hoping there is one more treatment to try."
Nicole Spagna said she wants her son's story to help other children coping with cancer. His grandmother has vowed to work to establish a local hospice dedicated solely to children and their families, and she will continue to raise funds for children's cancer research.
"In my heart, I know Dominic has made a big difference and has shown that he is a caring person," Monique Spagna said. "I am still praying for a miracle for him. I believe in miracles."