Jason Sotiris calls it “the moment”. It comes when a child has been in hospital for days, or weeks, or more. And suddenly something magical happens.
“There’s a knock on the door,” he says. “And you look up, and you see your favourite superhero. You see Iron Man or Captain Marvel. And that reaction is what we call ‘the moment’.”
A visit from a superhero is pretty exciting in itself. But these superheroes bring more than just high-fives.
“This superhero says ... hey, I’ve heard about you,” Jason says. “You’re that brave kid ... I want to shake your hand, I want to have a photo with you, I want your signature. You have been so brave that you have earned a spot among other superheroes. The only thing you need is a costume.”
And the superhero presents the child with a Supertee – a superhero garment that helps them tap into their own natural superpowers.
Jason knows all too well what it’s like to have a child sick in hospital. A tradie by day, he came up with the Supertee concept after his baby daughter Angela developed a rare type of cancer, and was given only a 20 per cent chance of survival. Thankfully, she recovered.
While Jason was by Angela’s bed, he thought of a medical garment that would serve two purposes. Firstly, it would replace the standard hospital gown, with openings for tubes, shoulder and side studs to make life easier for nurses and bedside parents, and even a cape that turns into a bib. And secondly, it would give kids a big psychological boost. The Supertee was born.
Recipients have included eight-year-old Indyana Wedderburn, who has a rare and incurable form of epilepsy that has led to frequent brain surgery. Her mum, Megan, says Indyana’s Supertee, as well as the Supertee Facebook support group, has given the family strength.
“It’s more than just a T-shirt, that’s for sure,” says Megan. “His creation is genius. Jason cares because he can relate to what it’s like.”
Jason says Supertees help children build up their levels of perseverance and make them better equipped to deal with the trials they have to go through. “It’s the alter-ego effect, like ‘What would Iron Man do?’,” Jason says. “These kids have already proven to us they’re worthy of being called superheroes.”
Having already established the Fair Fight Foundation (the charity behind the Supertee) and the Supertee family support group on Facebook, which helps hundreds of parents with critically sick kids build strong bonds and support one another, Jason is now setting his sights on an even bigger goal: a cure for cancer.
“The long-term goal for Supertee is to be able to contribute to cutting-edge research,” he says. “I made two promises to my daughter: one was I am going to take you to Disneyland the moment we leave this hospital. And the second promise was I’m going to find a way to keep this invisible monster at bay.”
He kept his first promise. The second is a work in progress.