SALEM — Anthony Smith isn’t just any 5-year-old boy — he’s an inspiration to children like himself coping with physical challenges.
That’s why the determined, energetic youngster has been named the grand marshal of this year’s Salem Holiday Parade.
When organizers began considering candidates for the event Dec. 1, Anthony became an obvious choice, according to Brett Grande, parade committee chairman. Nearly a dozen committee members then met with the child and his family.
“The parade is all about kids, so to have someone his age will be pretty special,” Grande said.
Ever since the story of the young boy’s battle with a rare genetic disease unfolded last year, Anthony and his family have been the center of attention.
And Anthony — born with mosaic trisomy 22, which left him with a hearing impairment and a hole in his heart, among other health complications — became a celebrity of sorts.
It all began when Anthony, who loves superheroes, told his mother he no longer wanted to wear his blue hearing aid — nicknamed “Blue Ear.”
It was the first time that Anthony, then 4, acknowledged he was a little different than other children, according to his mother, Christina D’Allesandro. Anthony is the grandson of longtime state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester.
Christina D’Allesandro tried to make Anthony feel better by telling him superheroes wear hearing aids just like anybody else, but she didn’t know if that was true. So, she contacted Marvel Comics to see if it ever created any superheroes with hearing impairments.
Marvel Comics editor Bill Rosemann sent the family a 1980s comic book cover of the character Hawkeye of the Avengers, who wore a hearing aid after injuring his ear.
He also sent a special cover drawing of Anthony as a superhero named The Blue Ear, who — thanks to his “special listening device” — helps people when he hears they are in trouble.