Salem child inspires comic-book hero poster campaign for the hearing-impaired

Union Leader Correspondent
February 25. 2013 8:12PM

Five-year-old Anthony Smith's story inspired Marvel Comics to team up with hearing aid manufacturer Phonak to create a series of posters designed to encourage kids with hearing impairments. Anthony and his family is traveling to New York City, where Iron Man is presenting the youngster with a special poster to hang on his bedroom wall. The comic book company created a customized, hearing-aid wearing character, Blue Ear, for Anthony last year after learning about the deaf little boy's fondness for superheroes. (COURTESY)

SALEM -- The plucky spirit of a little boy whose story led Marvel Comics to create a hearing-aid wearing superhero has inspired a hearing aid company to help other hearing-impaired children discover their own heroes.

Anthony Smith, 5, of Salem, made international headlines last spring when a simple remark made to his mother, Christina D'Allesandro, led to something much bigger.

"One morning he told me he didn't want to wear his hearing aid anymore because superheroes don't have blue ears," D'Allesandro said. "I told him that this just wasn't true."

Born with an underlying chromosome disorder that affected his right side, Anthony, whose grandfather is state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, cannot hear out of his right ear and has reduced hearing in his left ear. The disorder has also affected Anthony's heart, and the little boy has recently recovered from a successful open-heart surgery.

These days he's doing quite well, his mother said, and his days are filled with typical preschooler pursuits like swimming, karate, soccer and endless hours playing with his favorite superhero toys.

Anthony, who attends the HEAR school for hearing-impaired children in Hooksett and wears blue Phonak hearing aids, was thrilled when Marvel Comics heard of his story and artists Nelson Ribeiro and Manny Medeiros sketched out a special character just for Anthony by the name of Blue Ear.

As Iron Man's sidekick, "Blue Ear" uses his special blue hearing aids to hear others in need of help.

"Blue Ear has since become an extension of who Anthony is," D'Allesandro said. "He has a Blue Ear costume, which he wears all the time."

D'Allesandro said her son's story touched the hearts of parents and children all over the globe - she's received emails from parents of hearing-impaired children from as far away as India, England and Sweden.

"Anthony's story is now about something much bigger. It's been shared and shared," D'Allesandro said.

On Tuesday, Anthony and his family are traveling to New York City where another surprise is in store for the active little boy. Hearing aid manufacturer Phonak has partnered with Marvel Comics' icon Iron Man to create an original poster to be distributed to pediatric audiology clinics all over the nation. The young patients will be given posters of their own to hang on their bedroom walls, serving as constant inspirations.

The poster depicts Iron Man and a little boy that uses a hearing aid in a series of comic book adventures, Marvel Comics editor Bill Rosemann said.

"After hearing how Anthony's story helped him and others to accept his hearing aid, Phonak saw the impact Marvel characters had on readers," Rosemann said. "We both saw the potential for using superheroes to teach us that it's OK to wear a hearing aid."

Rosemann said the poster is essentially a one-page comic book based on a short story by author Christos Gage and featuring the art of Paco Medina. In the comic book tale, a group of children are playing soccer and are hesitant to allow a deaf classmate in on the game. Fortunately, Iron Man comes to the rescue and explains to the children that their new friend isn't all that different than they are, except that he happens to use technology to help him be his best.

"We're hoping people can see these posters and walk away feeling positive about hearing loss and those that rely on hearing aids," Rosemann said. During a public unveiling of the poster at the Center for Hearing and Communication, Iron Man himself will be on hand to meet and chat with Anthony and present him with his own special poster.

"He's beyond excited about making the trip," D'Allessandro said on Friday. "We're also pretty excited about being able to help other families with similar struggles."

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