Nick Branca, 7, underwent 140 blood transfusions, multiple operations, and battled cancer half of his life, but he never stopped living a full life right up to his death late last month.
Nick, who attended Meadowside Elementary School, died Oct. 29. He was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when he was 3. Only 650 children a year are diagnosed with the disease.
Nick initially was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in May 2005 and was first treated at Yale-New Haven Hospital. He underwent a double stem cell research transplant at Boston’s Children’s Hospital in December 2005. Nick was in remission for 2 1/2 years, but in May 2008, he awoke with stomach pain; the cancer had recurred. He underwent additional chemotherapy and radiation, and had a tumor removed in August 2008.
In June 2008, Meadowside students signed a beam used in Yale-New Haven Hospital’s $469 million new Smilow Cancer Center. Nick was able to tour the facility and see the beam in August.
But for the third time, the cancer reappeared in January, and again in April. Nick was treated with liquid radiation, and was in remission again. But in September, his parents, Margie and Jeff Branca, received the worst news a parent can hear.
“We were told he had bone marrow disease in September and there was nothing they could do for him,” Margie Branca said.
When she was informed of the diagnosis, her first reaction was “sad and upset, it’s almost disbelief.”
“He was still going on. He still wanted to play,” his mother said. “It was hard to believe. The diagnosis did not match him.”
Before Nick’s death, the Brancas went to Disney World as part of a Dream Come True wish. During the trip, which began Oct. 11, Nick was swimming and playing.
But Oct. 23, Nick began to feel lethargic, and six days later he died. Yet, even the day before he died, Nick awoke and wanted to go get cookies and the family went to Walmart, his mother said.
“Literally, until the end, he lived. He loved life. He loved people,” Margie Branca said.
Because Nick’s fight drained his parents’ finances, friends from Meadowside will hold a fundraiser tonight featuring local celebrities to help pay the tens of thousands of dollars the family owes in medical bills.
Because of her son’s illness, Margie Branca was only able to work part time, while bills piled up. She said the family did whatever it took to ensure Nick got the best care he could.
“You don’t think of the bills and break out the credit cards and hope it doesn’t melt,” Margie Branca said.
Meadowside PTA Vice President Jennifer Miller said Nick’s courageous battle with cancer touched the entire school community, and motivated them to assist the family.
From 6:30 to 8:30 tonight the Meadowside school community fundraiser will feature local celebrities and Major League baseball player Craig Breslow, a pitcher for the Oakland Athletics. Breslow, born in New Haven, runs Strike 3 Foundation, a nonprofit charity that raises awareness and funding for pediatric cancer research.
Tonight’s events costs $5 for families to enter and meet and get autographs from the celebrities. Other celebrities scheduled to appear include WTNH-TV and ESPN personalities, along with Storm the mascot from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. There will be raffle items along with autographs of Reggie Bush, Ryan Howard and WWE personalities.
“Nick’s spirit, he was such a great kid. He amazed everyone,” Miller said. “He was a fighter and wanted to live. He’s an amazing 7-year-old boy who went through everything he did.”