Care for the Whole Family

Michael Avitabile
Michael Avitabile, 9-year-old cancer survivor.

When a child gets very sick, the whole family hurts. A Massapequa boy's parents and two brothers were grateful for respite when he needed intensive treatment at Cohen Children's Medical Center.

The journey began on a family excursion to the Bronx Zoo last summer, when a temporary but severe stomachache struck Michael Avitabile. The pain returned one Sunday a couple of weeks later, so his parents--Anthony and Brenda--took him to a local walk-in clinic. An X-ray did not show the exact cause of pain, but the clinicians suspected an intussusception, a common cause of intestinal obstruction in children, and recommended that Michael receive care at Cohen Children's Medical Center if the pain persisted.

Michael's stomachache began to subside at the clinic, but returned in full force two weeks later. His parents immediately took him to the Emergency Department at Cohen Children's, where after careful examination, including a diagnostic ultrasound, doctors confirmed intussusception. To correct the issue, they administered a therapeutic enema and then surgery. 

Jose Prince, MD, pediatric surgeon, performed the procedure and found an unusual lymph node that he sent for biopsy. Mr. Avitabile went to work the next morning as the Cohen Children's team took care of his son and searched for more answers.

"I received a call from my wife, crying," Mr. Avitabile said. "Michael had cancer."

Whole-Family Support

Michael was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Arlene Redner, MD, pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Cohen Children's, leapt into action to administer chemotherapy to Michael. The treatment cycle would last three months and require four inpatient stays at Cohen Children's. 

To ensure the family would remain as close as possible while Michael underwent treatments, Mr. Avitabile asked for advice from friends whose children had been treated at Cohen Children's. 

"They told me about the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island, which is right next door to Cohen Children's," he said. "Our experience could not have been better. Staying there allowed my wife and me to be within minutes of Michael at all times. It also let us maintain some normalcy with our children during this trying time."

The facility offers 42 family rooms and private bathrooms, kitchen facilities, laundry rooms, a fitness center, a meditation room and game areas for kids, plus compassionate staff members who specialize in creating a nurturing environment so families can recharge, restore and connect with others. 

"Families staying at the Ronald McDonald House — whether they are thousands of miles away from home or live just around the corner — become an invaluable support system for each other," said Matthew Campo, president. "On a daily basis, they laugh together, play together, cry together and pray together. We have had the privilege of providing a warm, comfortable place where they may rest and recuperate — a necessity when communicating with a child's medical team and adhering to complicated treatment plans."

Complicated plans did not dampen the outlook for the Avitabile family.

"There is always hope, even in the darkest of times," Mr. Avitabile said. "The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island was our home away from home for three months, and everyone there helped us to see that bright side. It was our oasis in the face of difficult times. Michael is doing great, and his long-term prognosis is very good."

Celebrating 30 Years of Togetherness

This fall, the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island will host a 30th Anniversary Gala. The festivities, which will include dinner and dancing, will take place Thursday, September 29, from 6 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $350 each. Everyone is welcome to attend and honor the families the facility has served since 1986. Sponsorship opportunities are also available. For more information about the gala, email Jennifer Nicholson or call her at 516-775-5683, ext. 158.

Read the Fall 2016 issue of Kids First.

Focus onHealth TV

Watch Focus onHealth, Northwell Health's TV show. It's the healthy way to stay informed!