Photo courtesy of Stony Brook Children’s Hospital
Memorial gift helps soothe the pain
SUFFOLK COUNTY—Francis (Frankie) William Antonawich’s dream was to be able to help children undergoing cancer chemotherapy since he could relate to how they were feeling. And it was one of the reasons he’d decided to enter the field of nursing. Sadly, that dream was cut short. The West Islip resident passed away in February from Hodgkin’s lymphoma after a three-year battle with the disease. He was 25.
However, his wishes were in part realized last week when a freezer filled with ice pops was presented to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital in memory of Antonawich and courtesy of the American Childhood Cancer Organization’s “Take a Pop, Share a Smile” program through the Jel Sert food corporation. The program supplies an unlimited amount of ice pops, which can be very soothing for a condition that occurs while undergoing chemo: mucositis (mouth sores).
“Sometimes, the only thing that a child can tolerate to eat during chemotherapy is an ice pop,” said Lisa Rendina, RN, a pediatric nurse specialist at the hospital.
Rendina, who knew about Antonawich’s story from his mother Lynn Antonawich, who is also a nurse at the hospital, spearheaded a campaign to write the company for the donation soon after he had passed.
The Chicago-based Jel Sert, which manufactures products such as Fla-Vor-Ice, started the program in 2010 to help increase young cancer patients’ quality of life. A spokesperson for the company, Laura Trevino, noted that more than 100 treatment centers around the country have benefited from this program thus far. “It breaks your heart to see what these kids are going through,” she noted, adding that the family who owns the company had been touched by both pediatric and ovarian cancers and wanted to do something to help ease the pain, something Antonawich had known all too well.
Antonawich graduated from St. John the Baptist High School in 2010. An avid wrestler when he was a student there, he began to coach wrestling at his alma mater after he graduated from Roger Williams University with a degree in biology. Lynn Antonawich, the assistant director of neonatal ICU, said after he was diagnosed, a television commercial showing a nurse helping a pediatric cancer patient inspired him to return to school. Frankie then enrolled in the nursing program at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. “He felt that if he could become a nurse he could help [the children] through it. He decided his true path in life was to help people.”
Lynn said her son would have been so happy to know he was the impetus for the donation. “I think he would have been very proud [knowing] how the children and their families are being helped to be brave,” she said.
Two scholarships in his name have also been arranged, one for nursing students at St. Joseph’s College and another for a graduating wrestler at St. John the Baptist High School.
“He’s still giving back,” Lynn added.
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