Jason Sotiris was glaring into the mirror, berating himself for being such a shit dad.
“I felt worthless, dumb, unbefitting as a parent. My little girl needed me and I couldn’t help her. I was yelling at my reflection, telling myself what a shit father I was.”
Jason’s little girl is Angela who was just one-year-old when diagnosed with the extremely rare blood cancer LCH (Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis) and given a mere 20 per cent shot of survival. Her next three years were mostly spent in Westmead Children’s Hospital, her mother Vanessa constantly by her bedside, willing her child to live, while Jason, a knockabout tradie, a veritable Mr Fix-it, realised he was powerless.
“I’d never felt so useless,” he remembered. “She was our IVF baby, our successful third attempt. We couldn’t lose another child, we just couldn’t.“
Fast-forward a decade and Angela is a happy, healthy ten-year-old, with two younger siblings, Teo, 8, and Tahlia, 3, and her mum back working in sales admin. Jason’s life however as the ‘bathroom glue guy’ has taken a completely different turn. He’s now CEO of the Fair Fight Foundation, a charity delivering Supertees, medical garments designed to give simple procedural access and a boost of self-empowerment. It’s a foundation, which not only introduced him to the most ‘heart-breaking, yet beautiful’ world of Manly’s Bear Cottage, but also earned the support of Marvel characters. Think big. Think Chris Hemsworth and Brie Larson.
But let’s go back to the night at Westmead around eight years ago, when it took a desperately sick little Angela to empower her desperately helpless dad.
“She was on some very strong chemo, the tough stuff, and threw up. I wanted to change her, but there were wires everywhere and I was too scared to touch anything. In my frustration, I wondered why no one had come up with a simple idea to make it easier to change our sick kids’ clothes.”
That’s when the tradie, who’d never sewn a button in his life, had his light bulb moment. What about a multi-functional x-ray and MRI friendly shirt which allowed parents to safely bypass IV drips, central lines and breathing masks?
“I couldn’t let it go,” Jason said. “I went home and sketched designs, looking at press studs, buttons, zippers, Velcro opening from the middle out, the back out and the side, while consulting other parents and hospital staff and experimenting on t-shirts.”
But it was actually Teo who gave him the inspiration to take the design up a notch when the toddler emerged from his bedroom one day dressed as Batman. Jason asked him who he was going to save.
“He said ‘Angela’, he was going to save his sister. That’s when I understood that wearing a super hero costume gives you confidence to beat everything. So my improvised hospital gown was injected with imaginative fun and play, including a cape that can be transformed into a bib, to become a Supertee.”
Jason’s mate Yusuf Mukils stepped up with financial assistance to not only get the Supertees designed and made, but packaged in reusable tins along with stickers, messages and bookmarks, all carrying a generic superhero theme. Made from cotton and printed with a non-toxic dye, the Supertees are fastened with plastic press buttons, safe for MRI and PET scan machines, and open around the underarms to allow temperature checks without undressing the child or unhooking drips.
“Here we were, a couple of tradies in hi-vis and dirty boots, wanting to give things to sick children,” Jason laughed. “It took a bit of convincing at Westmead, but once we did it was like a domino effect.”
Since 2018, Jason and his team of more than 200 volunteers have delivered more than 13,000 Supertees to sick children in hospitals throughout Australia. In 2019, it won the the Good Design Australia award for social impact, with the Fair Fight Foundation launched a year later to ensure the Supertee can be gifted.
“The stories we come across with these kids, you just wouldn’t believe, we’re just trying to make it fair for them, when really, it’s so unfair.”
However, the fair fight took on a whole new meaning when the Walt Disney Company contacted Jason to offer help after ‘someone saw something, somewhere’. Enter the Supertee Marvel edition, a range featuring designs based on Marvel characters Captain America and Captain Marvel and personal messages from Chris Hemsworth, aka Thor, and Brie Larson, Captain Marvel, accessed via QR codes.
“That was amazing for us, so inspiring and we’re really hoping to get Chris more involved down the track.”
Meanwhile, Bear Cottage, the home away from home providing support, respite and end-of-life care for desperately ill children, is no stranger to superheroes. For more than a decade, the children’s hospice has encouraged the community to get involved in its annual Superhero Week, a fundraiser Community Relations Manager Bronwen Simmons has helped drive since its inception. It launches this year on Sunday July 24 with a party for Bear Cottage families, everyone dressed to impress in their favourite superhero costumes.
“Our own local super heroes from the police and NSW Fire and Rescue will also be there and it’s the perfect opportunity to give the Supertees in their lovely tins to our children. But remember, we see superhero characteristics every day at Bear Cottage, not only in our children, but in the strength, bravery and courage of their families,” Bronwen said.
Jason admits he was ‘blown away’ during his first visit to Bear Cottage three years ago.
“I fell in love with it,” he says. “It’s one of the most beautifully heart-breaking places you can visit, a place so desperately needed for something so terrible, surrounded by such amazing love and support. While our Supertees can help make Bear Cottage children feel protected by a virtual armour fighting the worst villain of all, everyone at Bear Cottage are true superheroes.”
You can donate, host a fundraising event, become a volunteer or partner with the Fair Fight Foundation here.