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How Jason Sotiris became Sydney’s superhero for the sick

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Finding nothing online, Jason Sotiris started his Supertee charity by sketching ideas for medical clothing with openings to allow easy access for temperature readings, intravenous lines and catheters, etc. Photo: SuperTee
Finding nothing online, Jason Sotiris started his Supertee charity by sketching ideas for medical clothing with openings to allow easy access for temperature readings, intravenous lines and catheters, etc. Photo: SuperTee

A self-proclaimed “tradie dad from Greystanes” in Sydney’s south-west is bringing smiles to the faces of thousands of sick children and has caught the attention of Hollywood celebrities with his ingenious hospital-friendly superhero costumes.

Jason Sotiris launched his Supertee charity in 2018 five years after his first child Angela, then aged one, was diagnosed with Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a “mind-blowingly” rare form of cancer.

It had already torn through much of her tiny body, and Jason and his wife Vanessa were told she had a 20-25 per cent chance of survival.

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“We sat in the oncologist’s office hearing all this and I just thought, “This is a nightmare, what do we have to do to get her better and make it end?’” said the former Trinity Catholic College student.

“Little did I know it was just beginning.”

Mr Sotiris said he appreciated the prayers and kind thoughts that helped his family through Angela’s three years of treatment, but that he had felt angry with God for allowing his innocent daughter to suffer so much.

“I couldn’t understand it and in the end I just had to put that question aside,” he said.

Desperate and feeling unless from his inability to protect his daughter from her illness, he looked for ways to ease her time at Westmead Children’s hospital.

“I was desperate and it gave me something to hold on to,” he said.

“Angela threw up one night after chemo and was very distressed but I had to call a nurse to help me change her t-shirt, because of all the tubes and wires attached to her.

“I felt so useless standing there looking at my little girl crying and thought, ‘Why hasn’t someone come up with something to make this easier?’”

Finding nothing online, he started sketching ideas for medical clothing with openings to allow easy access for temperature readings, intravenous lines and catheters, as well as plastic press studs that can pass through scanning machines.

Nurses gave him input and feedback on the designs, and friends agreed to invest in the idea.

He later decided on brightly-coloured superhero designs to acknowledge Angela’s bravery and provide a sense of empowerment.

“It’s called the ‘Batman effect.’ Psychologists call it psychological distancing,” Mr Sotiris explained.

Jason Sotiris’ Supertee charity provides free medical clothing to 59 hospitals. Photo: Supplied/Supertee
Jason Sotiris’ Supertee charity provides free medical clothing to 59 hospitals. Photo: Supplied/Supertee

“It’s no longer them seeing the task that they need to get through as themselves but harnessing the power of imagination.

“Now it’s like, ‘How would Batman approach this, or Captain America or Wonder Woman?’

“The impersonation aspect helps them view their challenges in a different light.”

In a huge coup for the new charity, Disney approved a Marvel Supertee range last year.

Hollywood stars Chris Hemsworth and Brie Larson filmed a video for children who receive them to congratulate them on “officially receiving hero status.”

“When I put on my costume in the Avengers I feel like I can take on anything; stay strong, stay courageous,” says Mr Hemsworth, who played the role of Thor in several Marvel movies.

Now cancer-free, Angela turned 11 in May and has two younger brothers, while her dad has swapped silicone-sealing bathrooms for ensuring children in 59 hospitals Australia-wide receive a Supertee kit for free.

Presented in a custom-designed gift tin, each includes a costume with a cape that doubles as a bib, stickers, an activity book and a bookmark with an inspirational message for parents and carers.

Westmead Children’s Hospital was the first to use the special garments. Paediatric oncologist Professor Stewart Kellie praised the simple concept for being a “great hit with the kids.”

“Kids love a game and there’s not a whole lot of games and hilarity on a cancer ward, so the whole idea of doing things in character is a wonderful idea,” he said.

Mr Sotiris said he vividly remembers walking back into Westmead for the first time after Angela recovered.

“I had one hand holding her hand and my other hand holding a Supertee and I just felt so very blessed.”

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