Monday, June 16, 2008

Macomb Daily : Afflicted children get support 06/16/08

Fabrizio DiMercurio, 9, is afflicted with a rare disease called Fanconi anemia. He annually attends a camp for seriously ill children called Camp Sunshine in Maine. On June 21, Hattie and Bart Rowe will host a fundraiser at their Clinton Township Tropical Smoothie Cafe to benefit Camp Sunshine.

Afflicted children get support

By Frank DeFrank
Macomb Daily Staff Writer

Antonio and Marie DiMercurio of Macomb Township have two families.

Their immediate family includes daughters Alessandra, 10, and Adriana, 2, and son Fabrizio, 9.

Their second family includes the children, men, women and volunteers they visit every year at a place called Camp Sunshine in Maine. At the camp, children, like Fabrizio, who suffer from serious illnesses gather to forget their troubles and be kids for a few days.

If the respite from doctors and treatments is good for kids, it might be even better for the adults.

"We talk to each other," said Antonio. "We get to express our feelings with one another. It's like a big family."

At birth, Fabrizio was diagnosed with an affliction called Fanconi anemia, a rare, inherited blood disorder that leads to bone marrow failure. Because of the affliction, Fabrizo was born without thumbs and with incomplete bone structure in his arms.

But you wouldn't know it. He bounces around like other 9-year-olds at Shawnee Elementary School, and at Camp Sunshine he plays golf, takes boat rides and enjoys his favorite part: "Swimming in the lake."

Fanconi anemia is so rare, only about 3,000 people worldwide are afflicted. Fabrizio's life includes regular blood tests and trips to Cincinnati at least once a year, sometimes more, for treatments.

And for the past six years, the family has traveled to Maine for a few days at Camp Sunshine, where the kids play and the parents learn the latest medical information about their children's afflictions.

"When the children are out doing their activities, we're in with the doctors," said Marie.

But spending time with other families is the best part.

"We get to socialize with the other families and we're all in the same boat," Marie said. "You can't put worth on that."

Camp Sunshine is free to families with ill children, though they must pay their own transportation costs. This year, the DiMercurios are one of five families in southeastern Michigan whose trips to Camp Sunshine are sponsored by Tropical Smoothie Cafe.

"I'm just amazed by their strength and their hope," said Dianne Lemieux, area developer for Tropical Smoothie Cafe. "I can see the difference (the camp) has made in their lives."

Because Fanconi anemia is rare, few even know about it. The DiMercurio family has taken on the responsibility of raising awareness about the affliction as well as participating in fundraisers.

"You take a negative and try to make it a positive," Maria said.

Bart and Hattie Rowe own the only Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Macomb County. Located at 40777 Garfield, just south of 18 Mile Road, in Clinton Township, the Rowes and their store will participate June 21 in a fund-raiser for Camp Sunshine called National Flip Flop Day.

The first 500 customers wearing flip flops will receive a free Jetty Punch smoothie. But the Rowes hope those and many more customers that day will offer financial support for Camp Sunshine.

"Take up donations and bring them to us," Bart said.

For more information about the fundraiser, call the Rowes Tropical Smoothie Cafe at (586) 477-2777 or visit the Web site For more information about Camp Sunshine, visit

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