Friday, June 20, 2008

Workers at Smilow Cancer Center reach out to young patient

Cancer center beam a symbol of support for Milford boy, 6

By Susan Misur
and Christopher Brunau
Special to the Register
— A construction beam sat in Meadowside Elementary School’s cafeteria Wednesday, but it wasn’t for a school renovation.
Students, faculty and administrators wrote messages on the beam in honor of a Meadowside kindergartner fighting cancer.
The beam-signing was just one of many events the school has held to raise awareness and to collect over $4,000 to help Nick Branca, 6, and his family.
"This really teaches kids a valuable lesson, and it’s going to a great cause," Principal Bob Davis said.
The signed beam is one of the last three to go into place at the Smilow Cancer Hospital being built beside Yale-New Haven Hospital, where Nick has been receiving treatment for a neurological cancer called neuroblastoma.
Only about 650 children a year develop the extremely rare cancer. Nick was diagnosed with it when he was 3 years old, and later went into remission after receiving chemotherapy.
But the cancer came back in May, forcing Nick to leave kindergarten at Meadowside to travel to Yale, and hospitals in New York and Philadelphia. The family expects medical bills that they must pay will hit about $20,000. The hope is that Nick will again go into remission until a cure can be found.
During Nick’s stay at Y-NH, construction workers at the Smilow Cancer Hospital site began writing messages that said, "Hope is coming" on the cancer center’s steel beams.
Meadowside administrators worked with Y-NH and the cancer center to bring a beam to the school so students could write messages for Nick, and donations could be collected for the family.
For a $2 donation, students were allowed to wear hats to school and sign the beam.
Later in the day, faculty, staff and Mayor James Richetelli Jr. played in a kickball game, which was followed by a picnic for students and parents. Teachers donated gift baskets to be raffled off during the picnic that Nick and his mother, Margie Branca, attended.
Jeffrey Branca, Nick’s father, said his son was too ill the morning of the beam signing to visit the school. But, he had a "burst of energy" in the afternoon and did go to Meadowside to see the signed beam.
"Nick thought it was like a big party," Jeffrey Branca said. "He was happy to see all of his teachers and friends. He’s just a strong little kid."
Numerous students had lined up during lunch to write messages of hope to Nick on the beam. Some simply signed their name, while others wrote notes.
"I know you can do it Nick," fourth-grader Colby Brennan wrote on the beam.
"Nick, get well soon. Hope is coming," wrote student William Weishaupt, who said he learned about Nick’s illness in class.
Alessandra Baez, a 10-year-old fourth-grader, said she was happy to help out and is friends with Nick.
"We love Nick. He’s really sweet when I read to him, and he loves cars. It’s nice to get together to help him," Alessandra said.
Davis and teachers said they were impressed with the students’ enthusiasm for the beam-signing and fundraising.
"I think it’s awesome the way the school comes together whenever someone is in need," said Barbara Pietrini, a fourth-grade paraprofessional.
"The kids are amazing," said Davis. "Some kids sold ice tea and lemonade over the weekend and gave all the money to Nick’s cause."
Jeffrey Branca said his family cannot truly express how thankful they are for the community’s outpouring of generosity.
"It was just unbelievable and overwhelming," Branca said. "I have no words to describe how the community pulled together for my son."
Donations for the Branca family can be made out to the Meadowside PTA, 80 Seemans Lane, Milford 06460.

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