Nicole Spagna fought for her young son's life for nearly two years. She encouraged 7-year-old Dominic Osorio to picture himself as a the Dominator, a superhero battling an evil enemy called a "megazoid." The fantasy helped the boy and his mother cope with a relentless disease and grueling treatments.
Dominic succumbed to a brain tumor last year, but Spagna is still waging his war against pediatric cancer.
"I am going to do all I can to get the monster that took my son from me," she said.
In the nine months since her son, Dominic Osorio, died, the Harford County mother has assuaged her profound grief with a resolute drive to help others win the battle he lost. She has established the D.O. Believe foundation and a website — dobelieve.org. Through various community events, she has raised nearly $10,000 to fund pediatric cancer research and to assist other families coping with the disease, sometimes with something as basic as parking money.
On Saturday, she will welcome joggers and walkers to the first annual Dominator run in Forest Hill, just north of Bel Air.
"I am trying to raise awareness and keep Dominic's memory alive," she said. "He was such an inspiration. He showed us that anyone can be a superhero."
Spagna never told Dominic he had cancer. Instead, she created a story for the child with the infectious smile and the friendly manner. As he endured multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, he played the part of his mother's superhero.
"He was just an average little boy whose whole life changed," she said. "Instead of crying, he would give a thumbs-up and smile."
Dominic's story spread quickly through Bel Air, and many people responded. Dominic's Dominator spawned a Superheroes Day in the town, an event that will be repeated on Sept. 11. The child also inspired a Dominator comic book that sold about 2,000 copies in its first edition and also added to research funding. A sequel is in the works.
As Spagna quickly realized, her community did not stop caring about Dominic on Nov. 13, when he died at Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital.
"Even after Dominic died, the Bel Air community still wanted to help and do something in his name," Spagna said.
A hair salon sponsored a cut-a-thon fundraiser. A jeweler created a D.O. Believe series of charms, and a Fallston gym is offering power bars and coupons to runners Saturday. Blue Dot, a plumbing and HVAC company where Spagna works, is the major sponsor of the run, which has already drawn more than 100 participants, including Dominic's grandmother, Monique Spagna, and his 12-year-old sister, Kristina Osorio.
"Through this awesome journey, I have met so many amazing people who want to help," Nicole Spagna said. "Everyone who knows Dominic's story remembers this little boy who loved life. I think he taught us so many valuable lessons and that's why there is still interest in his story."
She has pledged all proceeds from the run and other activities to efforts to find a cure, she said.
"Children need their own medical trials, their own research," she said. "There have been great strides in adult treatment, but we can't use adult medicine for children."
The D.O. Believe Foundation will battle cancer, which the National Cancer Institute says is the leading cause of death by disease among American children.
On a chain around her neck, Spagna wears the same cross her son wore throughout his illness and along with it, she carries a heart that bears the imprint of his hand.
"I feel so lucky to be his mother," she said.
The run starts at 8 a.m. Saturday at Blue Dot, 125 Industry Lane, Forest Hill.