Inspiring many with his heartwarming smile and the superhero capes he wore during his cancer battle, 2-year-old Victor Skaro, nicknamed "Valiant Vito," has died.
"Vito was made of love and resilience," his mother, Nicole, told TODAY.com on Monday. "Vito didn't know pity. He didn't know, 'I can't do this.' He only knew life, and loved life."
A Facebook page dedicated to the Waconia, Minn., toddler's fight revealed the devastating news in an update posted the night before Thanksgiving, when the boy succumbed to a 15-month cancer battle he appeared to have won in March.
His funeral was held the following Thursday.
"There is a term for bringing a child into this earth, labor. But there is no term for the pain watching them leave," reads part of that update. "For that pain is a different kind of labor. A labor of bringing them to eternal life and the pain is unbearable only because the beauty of the after is much greater."
The post concludes, "While we cherished and loved you. You were never ours. You were an angel sent from heaven to change the world. And you have. Vito you changed the world."
Vito's story went national last December, when word spread of the heroic toddler and his caped crusade against cancer.
Diagnosed with medulloblastoma four months earlier, Vito captured the hearts of social media users who saw him take on the disease while fashioning Captain America, Superman, Batman and Thor capes made by local seamstress Kristi Fritsvold.
In a photo posted to Valiant Vito's Twitter account this past Halloween, the boy gave "Thor" star Chris Hemsworth an adorable run for his money.
Vito's mom witnessed the impact the capes had on her son.
"We had a rack that was right at our front door [of the hospital room] and every morning, he'd be at the end of the bed and he'd pick his cape before we went down the hall," she said.
In March, when Vito turned 18 months old, he appeared to be cancer-free and was cleared to leave the Minneapolis branch of Children's Hospital of Minnesota, but he relapsed in July, Nicole said. When doctors found three growing tumors, treatments followed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, but Vito never fully recovered.
Yet nothing stopped him from living his short life with vigor and enthusiasm.
"We got him in his wheelchair in the beginning of the summer," his mom recalled. "Three hours later, he was learning how to propel himself. … We were at the Carver County Fair this past summer, and it started pouring rain. We pulled all the kids into shelter, and he rushed his wheelchair out there so he was out in the rain, and he just laughed and giggled about it."
Throughout chemo treatments and medical setbacks, Vito's contagious smile remained a symbol of hope. Nicole thanked the thousands of supporters who helped her family and wished Vito a full recovery, including Chicago Blackhawks star Duncan Keith, who sent Vito a sweet video message eight days before the toddler passed away.
"I heard about your story," the three-time Stanley Cup champion told the boy, "and all of us here with the Blackhawks are thinking about you and want to wish you the best."
The Skaro family is continuing to fundraise with the help of a friend through a GoFundMe page. Nicole wants to use the donations to support programs designed to bring joy to children continuing their own battles with disease and disability. She says one initiative would give capes to other kids who are fighting their own medical battles; another plan involves building a wheelchair-accessible playground that's also appealing to kids without disabilities, so that they can all play together.
It's all being done in memory of Vito, whose legacy, his mom says, is love.
"We hope people truly remember Vito, and remember love," Nicole added. "When you get exhausted by everything in life, just remember that at the end of the day, it's really about love. [Think about what] many of us parents, or what so many people who have buried loved ones, would do for one last hug and one last cuddle. Just cherish life. Cherish the sunrise. Cherish it all, because no tomorrow is promised."
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