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June 26, 2004

Family of ill Wood Dale boy asks for your help

From: Chicago Daily Herald - Chicago,IL,USA - Jun 26, 2004

Luca Vaia's parents are hoping that, with a little help, they can give their son a unique, yet very important, 4th birthday present: some relief from his debilitating disease.

Within days of the Wood Dale boy's birth on July 15, 2000, his father, Mike, said he could tell something wasn't right with his son, who was unusually lethargic.

"We knew right away that Luca was born with jaundice, which isn't all that unusual with newborns," Vaia said. "But we were told he would heal himself, and he never did."

Vaia and his wife, Lini, learned Luca was born with kernicterus, a type of brain damage that can cause cerebral palsy and hearing loss.

The condition also causes problems with vision and teeth and can sometimes lead to mental retardation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In some newborns, the liver makes too much yellow pigment called bilirubin. Too much can turn the skin and whites of the eyes yellow. If not treated, high levels of bilirubin can damage the brain.

Mike Vaia said Luca suffers from many of the common symptoms. He can't walk or talk, but relatives believe his hearing was partially restored two years ago when he was fitted for cochlear implants.

"It's tough to see in his eyes how much he wants to interact with us and other kids and to know that he's not able," Vaia said. "He has almost no ability to communicate with us."

Vaia said daily therapy sessions at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago were covered by insurance for the first three years, but have diminished when Vaia recently had to shut down his computer consulting firm. That's prompted loved ones to organize fund-raisers to help the family through the summer.

"They didn't want to ask for money or take handouts, but we knew we had to do something," said Vanessa Bucaro, Luca's aunt. "Luca is a beautiful child that deserves the best, and we're going to do everything we can to help him."

Vaia said he and his wife have already paid $6,500 for a three-week program at Easter Seals DuPage in Villa Park.

"Over time, we're going to go broke with $6,500 here and $10,000 there," Vaia said. "But when it's your kid, you'll do whatever it takes."

The first fund-raiser has been organized through Jewel Food Stores "Shop and Share" Days. When shoppers use a special coupon Monday through Wednesday, 5 percent of their purchases will go into the Luca Supplemental Needs Trust Fund at Charter One Bank.

Bucaro said several relatives will distribute the coupons and information about kernicterus in front of Wal-Mart stores on Army Trail Road at Martin Lane in Bloomingdale and on Route 83 south of St. Charles Road in Villa Park.

Anyone needing additional coupons can call Bucaro at (630) 675-7166.

© 2004 Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.