Dominic Luciano has never allowed his lifelong medical struggles to define his future. In fact, the 19-year-old says the challenges he's faced have accelerated his passion for a career in music and the performing arts.
Luciano, who recently opened his own shop in Medford where he offers everything from song recording and photography to logo design and an array of digital-marketing products, has faced two decades of ailments that, according to those who know him, inspired a work ethic rarely seen in someone his age.
Diagnosed shortly after birth with cerebral palsy, Luciano was diagnosed as a young child with neurofibromatosis type II, a condition that causes untold numbers of tumors to grow on the central nervous system, including the spinal cord and brain.
Among the hundreds of tumors forming throughout Luciano's body, the primary concern is a single, large tumor located on his C2 vertebrae, the same location of an injury that caused the late Christopher Reeve to become paralyzed and unable to breathe unassisted.
Facing his fourth brain surgery in seven years — slated for Aug. 30 at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. — Luciano says he's almost become bored with stressing over brain surgery, though he acknowledges that family and friends take the matter more seriously.
"I've had so many surgeries that it's not as scary for me as it sounds to most people," Luciano says.
"I've watched some brain surgeries on YouTube. We're not as delicate as we think. They just jam stuff into your head and suck it out. ... Things will either work out, or they won't."
Luciano was dubbed the "comeback kid" in middle-school, when he was featured in a Mail Tribune article. Before that, he was better known in the medical community for teasing his nurses and tampering with vital-signs monitors.
As a toddler, Luciano's cerebral palsy led to long hours of physical therapy, of which piano lessons were one form. Starting kindergarten a year early at age 4, Luciano was a straight-A student and talented musician who earned his black belt in karate between surgeries before age 13.
Accepted into college at 15, Luciano earned a degree before reaching the age of adulthood. While doing so — and as a precursor to his future business endeavors — he designed the program logo for Southern Oregon University's Emerging Media & Digital Arts program, all while facing daily battles, including two years of chemotherapy to slow the growth of tumors throughout his body.
Through it all, Luciano's focus has been on his future, his music and his family.
"I just always have wanted to do as much as I could and accomplish everything I could," he says. "I don't really know how to not be doing something. I want to be moving forward in my life."
Best friend Gaige Alleson, who lives in Phoenix, met Luciano in first or second grade. Though Alleson is two years older, Luciano graduated first after skipping a grade in middle school.
"It's crazy because he's really faced a lot in his lifetime, and it's incredible that he's achieved more than most people his age. I'm really proud of him," Alleson says. "He got his GED two years before I graduated high school so he could go to college.
"He has more determination than anyone I know."
Luciano's father, Michael Luciano, says few who know his son realize the severity of his condition.
"His dream is to do things with music, and he basically has a disease that can affect things like his speech and his hearing and vision. It amazes me what Dominic has been through and to be able to not only function but to achieve so much at such a young age."
"Until research is done that can find a cure, this is never going to stop," the elder Luciano says. "Over the years, I think a lot of people thought brain surgery was a one-time shot, and then we were on our merry way, but this is a 24-7, life-threatening deal."
Luciano says his son has "been really great about not letting it dictate his life. It's just the way life is for him, and we've always lived with the mindset that somehow you've got to keep your faith strong and keep on living."
Brain surgery aside, Dominic says his hope is to just pursue his dreams, help other musicians pursue theirs and put a face to a medical condition with which few are familiar.
"I really just want to make music. If I have to work harder, then that's what I have to do," he says.
"If I can make jaws drop with what I do for a living, maybe somebody will take notice and want to help people like me make a difference.
"In some way, maybe we have something like we have for a good reason," he adds. "There's more to life than what's wrong with us."
How to help: Dominic Luciano Medical Fund at the Stevens Street branch of Bank of America in Medford.
To learn more about neurofibromatosis, see www.ctf.org.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.